Millwall’s defeat by our promotion rivals Swansea last Saturday seems to have put paid to their faint chances of reaching the play-offs this season.
The Lions went into that match on the back of three straight wins which had put them within eight points of the top six, with six matches still to play, but losing at the weekend has probably given them too much to do.
When Millwall look back at this season, they may regret the amount of draws they have had – currently 16, the highest in the Championship.
They have performed better on the road this season than at home. The Lions have the sixth best away record in the division, with eight wins and six draws from 20 matches, but only the 13th best home record, with 10 of their draws occurring in their 21 matches at The Den.
One of their key players this season has been former Bees favourite Ryan Woods, who is on loan to the Lions from Stoke for the second campaign in a row.
They had some cup success during 2020/21 – with 3-1 wins over Crawley and Cheltenham taking them to the third round of the Carabao Cup, where they lost 2-0 at home to Premier League Burnley, and a 2-0 win at Boreham Wood taking them into the FA Cup fourth round, where they went out 3-0 to Bristol City.
This is Millwall’s ninth season out of 11 in the Championship, and fourth in a row, and in all but three of them they have finished in the bottom half of the table.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Gary Rowett has been in charge of Millwall for 18 months, having taken over from Neil Harris in October 2019.
His first managerial job was with Burton, whom he twice led to the League Two play-offs. He was previously the Brewers’ assistant manager to Paul Peschisolido.
After two-and-a-half years at the helm, he moved to Birmingham in October 2014, but was sacked just over two years later, even though the side was just outside the play-off zone at the time.
Three months later, he took over at Derby, like Burton and Birmingham a club he had played for, and another 14 months on, he moved to Stoke.
Gary finished his playing career as a defender, in which he made more than 400 appearances, at Burton and his other clubs, apart from Birmingham, were Cambridge, Everton, Blackpool (loan), Derby, Leicester and Charlton.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Our record against Millwall in the Championship is not bad, with four wins, three draws and two defeats in nine games.
This season’s 1-1 draw in September was significant as it saw Ivan Toney score his first Brentford goal – from the penalty spot – to equalise Jed Wallace’s early opener.
Past meetings in the Championship (Bees scores first):
2014/15 – (H) 2-2 (A) 3-2
2017/18 – (H) 1-0 (A) 0-1
2018/19 – (H) 2-0 (A) 1-1
2019/20 – (H) 3-2 (A) 0-1
2020/21 – (A) 1-1
Home – 2019/20
There was only one game to pick here – last season’s five-goal thriller which really kickstarted our season.
The Bees were 2-0 down with six minutes to go, and looked like stretching a sticky run of results to two wins in seven matches, but Ollie Watkins, together with substitutes Bryan Mbeumo and Josh Dasilva, turned the game on its head in dramatic fashion as Brentford snatched a 3-2 victory.
Goals either side of the interval from Tom Bradshaw and Jed Wallace, with a penalty, had put the Lions in control, despite Watkins earlier having a penalty saved by Bartosz Bialkowski, and Nikos Karelis, in what turned out to be his only start for the club, hitting the post before being stretchered off injured.
Dasilva gave Brentford hope in the 84th minute when he scored from a pass by Said Benrahma, who then set up Karelis’s replacement Mbeumo to equalise four minutes later.
Then in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Dasilva played the ball out to the left to Rico Henry, whose cross was knocked back by Mbeumo into the path of Ollie Watkins, who lashed home the winner.
It was only our second home win of the season from six matches and took us up to 13th from 17th in the table, which is the position to which Millwall dropped.
Away – 2014/15
An Andre Gray double at The Den gave us a 3-2 victory in a thriller in early November that campaign. He gave us the lead just before half-time and doubled it in the 56th minute, but Millwall hit back immediately with two goals in three minutes. The first was a Danny Shittu header which hit Lee Gregory on its way in and then Alan Dunne equalised.
But Gray was involved in the winner when his cross was turned into his own net by Shittu.
Q – Millwall look set for their third top 10 finish in four years – how would you assess their season?
A – To get to the last half dozen games or so and have been in with a shout for a late push for the play-offs is an excellent return from Millwall. Of course all fans have dreams and having gone close last year perhaps expectations may have been to challenge again, but the primary concern would be to have the club on a stable footing for next season.
If they had just been able to turn some of their draws into wins it could really have been an exciting conclusion to the season. And I believe that had supporters been allowed in at The Den this year, more home maximums would have been achieved.
The club do not have one of the division’s bigger budgets, and in these strange and challenging times to have had consistency and stability is a great thing that the Lions have achieved.
They have been tough to beat and shown great resilience which is part of the Millwall, DNA and I would suggest that in this strangest and most challenging of years another top 10 finish is a fine return.
Q – What do they need to do to make the slight improvement that would make them play-off contenders at the very least next season?
A – I think the obvious area of improvement is in the goals department. Jed Wallace is leading scorer this year but is also a key creator for the team. On paper there appears to be a glut of strikers with the likes of Tom Bradshaw, Matt Smith, Kenneth Zohore and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson on the books this year. But that quartet have scored in total the same as Wallace on his own in the League, nine.
Defensively the side have been strong and well organised with a tweak to three at the back allowing for wing-backs. The strong organised structure to making themselves tough to break down and beat is a real positive of the team, and how much can that approach be sacrificed to be too open.
One area which does not need improving at the moment is the keeper, Bartosz Bialkowski has been tremendous again.
I also genuinely think that The Den with fans in would have been worth a few more points to the Lions this season and I wonder what difference that will make when the supporters are allowed back.
Q – The Lions are the lowest scorers in the top half of the Championship table – why are their strikers not finding the net?
A -That is the key question, many options have been tried but it has proven problematic. To be fair, Mason Bennett has found a little form of late, with four goals in his last nine outings, and of course Jed Wallace has had a decent season. But as for the other four strikers who between them have chipped in less than 10 in the Championship perhaps the lack of regularity, fitness, chance to build partnerships and momentum has impacted on their ability to bang in the goals. It is certainly an area that Gary Rowett will want to address in the close season for next season’s campaign.
Whether it is just personnel which needs to change of an alteration in the pattern of play which will be most effective will no doubt be being discussed within the club, but misfiring front men are certainly not something that the club can carry.
Q – What sort of a job has Gary Rowett done in his 18 months in charge?
A – Gary Rowett has done an excellent job at the Lions, back-to-back top 10 finishes within his grasp operating on one of the lower budgets in the Championship. He has displayed his coaching and tactical acumen with the structure he has given the team this season, and while he will take great satisfaction from the defensive record this season, he has also been doing whatever he can to try and improve the goalscoring situation.
A few weeks ago in an interview with us, Gary said that this season had been one to endure and survive rather than enjoy due to the challenging and difficult nature of the last 13 months. His assessment was honest and I feel fair, playing in empty stadium, coping with restrictive protocols and working within tighter constraints in order to keep the games on and provide much-needed football, even from a distance, has been tough and all involved deserve immense credit.
Q – Ex-Brentford favourite Ryan Woods has been a regular in the Millwall side this season – how has he done in his time at The Den?
A – As Bees fans would expect, Woodsy is an important lynchpin helping to anchor things in midfield. He hasn’t missed too much football and provides that safety platform in front of the back line and linking to the more advanced players. He is still very efficient with the ball and has strong stats when it comes to not handing possession away.
Ryan’s bustling running style and his footballing brain make him such an asset to the Lions and he is certainly an important cog in their well-oiled machine.
Of course there’s not many goals, but his contribution to the team is much more important than that and his acquisition has been pretty important for Millwall
Q – What memories do you have of previous Bees-Lions games?
A – In recent years it has become somewhat of a habit, too early to be a tradition yet, that Billy Reeves and I have a meet-up at the Millwall Cafe ahead of games down at the Den. A plate of chips, some bread and a steaming hot cup of coffee perfect preparation for what always promises to be quite intriguing.
On the pitch, there have been a fair few memorable match-ups, that comeback at Griffin Park last season will no doubt linger long in collective memories in a clutch of stand-out games in the last season at GP. And the two late goals in the game six years ago which secured, what was in the end, a huge point for the Bees but which was a heartbreak for the Lions who may have, with a win in that game, helped build safety momentum.
There’s quite often incident when the two meet, the shenanigans on the sidelines at The Den a couple of years ago and of course John Bostock scoring direct from a corner, another late goal in that one I recall for Millwall on that occasion.
Q – Which Millwall players should Bees fans watch out for?
A – I’ve mentioned a few to keep an eye on already including the top two scorers Jed Wallace and Mason Bennett as well as the keeper Bialkowski. Elsewhere in midfield 20-year-old Billy Mitchell is really starting to make an impact and George Thomas is worth a watch too. And I have always been a fan of Scott Malone’s industry, ethic and ability, his approach typifying what makes Millwall tick.Q – Finally can you give me a possible Lions line-up and formation please.
A – Bialkowski
M Wallace A Pearce J Cooper
McNamara Woods Mitchell Malone
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played at the Brentford Community Stadium at 12.30pm on Saturday, behind closed doors.
Season ticket holders who have frozen their tickets have free access to watch the match on iFollow, and others can buy a match pass for £10.