It’s quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Despite five consecutive away wins for the Lions, the home form continues to splutter – Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat to Scunthorpe United was the club’s tenth in all competitions this season.
The contrast from playing on their own patch and going on the road is quite extraordinary; the last three of those five away day successes have seen Jordan Archer keep his sheets clean, whilst at The Den, the team have conceded in every game since a 1-0 win over Bury on November 28.
The search for the reasoning behind it goes on without much success. I spoke at length earlier in the season about the bigger pitch at The Den this season and up until the arrivals of Shane Ferguson and Jed Wallace, the Lions badly lacked the width to fill it, allowing opposition teams to exploit the space at will.
However, with Ferguson pushed back to left-back on Tuesday night, and with Wallace having his worst game since arriving on loan from Wolves, with their fellow winger, Aiden O’Brien, being completely non-existent for yet another game, the Iron lapped up the extra space, having an additional man out wide every time they went forward. It would seem that for the Lions to compete at home, their wide men need to perform.
Neil Harris’ team selection was criticised by some after Tuesday’s game, after the manager stuck with Mahlon Romeo and Sid Nelson – whose mistake led to the first goal – in defence. However, I have to back the manager here; Harris has spoken continuously about players getting a chance if they impress – the pair did just that during the recent away games at Walsall and Rochdale. Whilst Romeo showed the home crowd that he could indeed be the next star off of the production line, Nelson had a torrid time. I would expect Mark Beevers to return for Saturday’s clash with Peterborough United, but Harris was right to stick to his guns.
Furthermore, it’s a conversation that has been done to death, but I don’t think us as fans help the players most of the time. The first mistake on Tuesday was greeted with abuse and the players were booed off at half-time – correct me if I’m wrong, but this team has picked itself up off of the floor in the summer and are now within a shout of returning to the Championship at the first attempt. Booing? Not for me.
Moving on to more positive matters and I think a space must be reserved for Byron Webster.
A compete outcast in the Ian Holloway era, Webster has undergone somewhat of a resurgence and now acts as a first-choice centre-half. For me, the defender is now showing what he truly is – a towering and commanding presence at the back. Perhaps that’s what a consistent run in the side and a bit of confidence can do for you, eh Mr Holloway?
Another positive is the return of goals for the Lions’ leading scorer, Lee Gregory. Despite playing as a lone (sometimes very alone) striker last season, Gregory still managed as many goals as his shirt number, but this season, playing with a partner – the industrious Steve Morison – and receiving service from the likes of Ferguson and Wallace, means that the former electrician now sits just a goal away from being Millwall’s first 20-goal striker since Morison in the 2009/10 season.
Morison should probably be there himself by now – he is the most guilty party this season with regards to missing chances – but his tireless ‘behind the scenes’ work has allowed Gregory to flourish.
I still maintain that another season in this league won’t be the worst thing to ever happen to the club, but it does make you wonder where we could be if the patchy home form matched the extraordinary away form.
Prior to Tuesday night, after those five away wins, there was murmurs of an assault on the top-two in the League One table. Prior to Tuesday night, Millwall had four home games out of their next five, with a trip to Doncaster next Saturday providing the only respite. The more reserved among us were wary of that fact – so far, we are right to be so!
I think we’ll know a lot more about our end of season chances after this batch of games at The Den. Here’s hoping that the Lions can find success at home, as well as on the road. It’s an easy game from the stands, some say – after the last few years, I can assure you that it’s not!