I’ll be the first to admit – as of a few days ago, I was finding it extremely hard to summon up the power to write this blog.
The 2-0 defeat to Chesterfield signalled the end of a miserable August for Millwall Football Club, which included four straight home defeats in league and cup (five, if you count the CD Tondela friendly), with the 2-1 victory at Shrewsbury Town on the opening day being the only success; a point at Scunthorpe United aside.
The doom and gloom around The Den is at an all-time low for some – for others, particularly the older generation, who are not new to the idea of getting beaten at home by Third and Fourth Division sides week in, week out, they have seen worse – and currently, there seems little way out of the gigantic Den-shaped hole that has been dug.
However, albeit in the low-key atmosphere of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Section First Round (that name is FAR too long) game with Peterborough United this past Tuesday, tiny shoots of recovery were noticeable.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer – the game will more than likely have no bearing on the league form – but in the second half, Neil Harris’ Lions began to play football in ‘the Millwall way’. Similar to the 20-minute period against Chesterfield, Millwall got the ball down on the floor, avoided the long ball and used the width of the newly lengthened pitch.
When Lee Gregory came on for the ineffective John Marquis, the Lions picked up the pace and got their reward with Shaun Williams’ 92nd minute winner. The long ball game is fine in some instances, but we were promised ‘the Millwall way’ in the summer; punting the ball one hundred yards up the pitch, completely by-passing the midfield isn’t that. Getting the ball down, allowing the likes of Jack Powell and Shaun Williams to build attacks and spreading the ball out wide, is.
In recent weeks, Harris has spoken about ‘finding the right formula.’ Since coming back from injury, Aiden O’Brien has shown incredible amounts of hunger and desire, whilst Lee Gregory has been more effective coming off the bench (he changed the game in both cup ties vs Barnet and Peterborough) – if we’re going to start playing football and ditch the long ball game, perhaps an idea would be to start Morison and O’Brien up front, bringing a fresh Gregory on to run at defences when the tenacious O’Brien inevitably runs himself into the ground? Morison has stated himself that he does not wish to be a target man, whilst O’Brien and Gregory are much, much more effective with the ball at their feet – unless we are chasing a game in the final moments, the long ball game should not feature.
In midfield, as talented as he is, we are becoming heavily reliant on Fred Onyedinma. In the early stages of the season, Fred was fresh and an unknown quantity, which allowed him to create at will. Now, defences are inevitably doubling up on him, he is starting to become slightly less effective and is tiring as a result. Perhaps the international break will do him good, but we will need another plan instead of ‘give the ball to Fred and see what happens’ if we want to create in the final third.
In other news, I must touch on the name of Carlos Edwards. The Trinidad international made his welcome return from injury in Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie and bar a touch of unavoidable rustiness, slotted straight in to the back four, showing more defensive and attacking qualities in 90 minutes than Shaun Cummings has shown since his arrival in January.
Another name which has impressed me recently is that of Ben Thompson. Brought into the line-up for his full debut against Scunthorpe, the young midfielder has shown little immaturity in his play and looks a great asset to have in the squad. Tenacious in the tackle and comfortable on the ball, Thompson provides bite in Millwall’s midfield – long may it continue. Just stop finding Row Z from 30 yards out, Ben!
The squad does need strengthening; anyone can see that. But I didn’t understand the hysteria on ‘Deadline Day’. Millwall have rarely been incredibly active on that particular day (which I now despise, due to Sky Sports’ attempt to make it into a complete and utter circus) and we were told that there would be no more signings.
As I’ve said in a previous blog, if you wish to boycott, then go ahead. But, if you wish to turn your back on a side managed by Neil Harris, then I have to question your support to the club.
The right formula will be found. It’s just going to take time.