Well; that’s the Wembley dream over, then. For the next three months, anyway.
Despite winning the second-leg by a single goal to nil, Oxford United pipped Millwall to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final on Tuesday night, as they won 2-1 on aggregate. The Yellows became the third League Two side to dump the south London outfit out of a cup this season, after Barnet and Wycombe’s victories in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively.
The Lions only have themselves to blame – a plethora of missed chances, along with a catastrophic goalkeeping mistake by David Forde on a terrible night at The Den a few weeks ago ensured that they went into the return match with their backs firmly to the wall.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The win over Oxford was Millwall’s tenth on the road this season; quite an achievement. Three of those victories came in the JPT (Plymouth, Southend and Oxford), meaning seven have come in the league – a record that has propelled the Lions into the play-off places as January ends and the business end of the season begins to come into sight.
The end of January also meant the end of the transfer window and whilst the clubs transfer activities weren’t spectacular, they did pull off some good business. Firstly, signing Aiden O’Brien on a longer-term deal sent out a message to other clubs that our young talent is not for sale; that was backed up by the permanent signing of Shane Ferguson, initially on loan, after a long pursuit from Neil Harris, before the loan spell of Jed Wallace was extended for another two months.
Wallace gives the team exactly what it needs – someone that can pick the ball up from deep and create something out of nothing with explosive pace and a pinpoint delivery. With Lee Gregory moving onto 16 goals for the season against Oxford, it is no surprise that he has gone on a goal-scoring run since the arrival of Wallace; six goals in the last five games, to be exact. Strikers thrive on service from out wide – Wallace (and Ferguson) certainly provides that.
With Gregory nearing the twenty-goal mark and with O’Brien and Steve Morison on 11 and 10 goals respectively, there could be an argument that the Lions do not need another striker. However, I disagree. Should any of those three pick up a suspension or an injury, we are extremely light up top. Harris does have the likes of John Marquis and Jamie Philpot in reserve, but – whilst another year in League One won’t harm the development of certain players (let alone a certain manager) – if we are to challenge for promotion back to the Championship this season, I feel we need someone with a certain amount of experience to bolster the ranks.
Having said that; at the moment, you wouldn’t notice that O’Brien was even in the starting eleven. He is a striker playing out on the wing; therefore out of position, yes, but the past couple of performances have seen the Irishman become almost anonymous, totally ineffective and bottling tackles. I don’t want to be too hard on him as he is young and has no doubt a long and fruitful career in front of him, but when you set the bar as high as he has, performances like the last couple are disappointing to see to say the least. Perhaps a spell on the bench will light the fire from underneath him again.
Another weak link in the team in Shaun Williams. I don’t dislike Williams – I think on his day, he is an extremely clever footballer, with a fantastic range of passing – but over the last few weeks, the Irishman has been nothing short of a passenger. Against Crewe; numerous corners failed to beat the first man at the near post, whilst against Oxford, I lost count of the amount of times his lackadaisical attitude lost us the ball.
Suggestions he cannot play in certain formations are folly and a mere smokescreen for his bad form; he is a central midfielder, playing in a central midfielder’s position and he should be effecting games in a positive manner – not the negative way that we have seen in recent weeks. Hopefully Ed Upson, who replaced Williams against Oxford on Tuesday, can have a run of games in his natural position and show what he is made of.
Lastly, Neil Harris’ Manager of the Month nomination for January must be mentioned. I think a lot of people need to remember that this is the record goalscorers first full year of management, in which he has had to deal with the bare bones from day one.
He is working wonders with what he has got at his disposal. Well done on the nomination; Bomber, but for Christ’s sake, don’t win it!