Ahead of Saturday's game between Nottingham Forest and Millwall at The City Ground, we spoke to John Kelly from Southwark News to get the lowdown on the men from The Den...
How have you viewed Millwall’s season so far?
It’s been disappointing. They expected and were expected to be top-six challengers, but that seems a distant dream at the moment. They went on a great run last season towards the play-offs, and at one point it looked like they would make it. They have struggled to score goals, something that was also a problem in 2019-20. They are traditionally a stronger team in the second half of the season, so they have to hope that’s the case again.
They won’t be thinking they can’t get back in the mix for the top six, but they have an awful lot of work to do to get there. Results seem to have tailed off since November, can you put your finger on why that is? A number of pretty easily identifiable reasons. They brought in Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore on loan to make the difference and provide goals, but those two forwards have missed a large chunk of the season.
Then there have been disruptions caused by positive tests for Covid-19. Gary Rowett had to self-isolate missing three games, the last of them a 3-0 defeat at home to Huddersfield that kicked off a run of 10 games without a win. Then in mid-December eight players tested positive. The club had to close the training ground, with those players self-isolating. It meant they could do no real proper group work before the Coventry game – arguably their poorest performance of the season.
How has Gary Rowett performed as manager?
He did brilliantly last season, taking over when they were 17th and they were still in with a chance of the play-offs with two games left. But it’s hard to be too critical about this season when you take into count all those issues. After they lost 4-3 to QPR last season, the result that ended their top-six hopes, Rowett demanded more, and that they cast off this ‘small club’ mentality ‘punching above their weight’. I think – if they don’t revive their slim play-off chances but stay safe – this season will probably looked at as something of a write-off with everything going on. Get to the summer, and start building or rebuilding again.
What is the overall mood amongst the club’s supporters at the minute?
They’re disappointed that their side hasn’t lived up to expectations, but there’s probably just a resignation about it. They can’t go watch their side – apart from 2,000 who attended two games – so I think that just naturally creates an emotional distance. It’s almost like there’s so much else to worry about that this feels like a campaign that will be consigned to the memory bin. Like most fans, they’re hoping that in the summer, things are more normal and perhaps clubs can be allowed to start planning for supporters back in stadiums.
What business needs to be done in the January transfer window?
Ideally an all-round central midfielder who can get forward and be a goal threat. And another attacker. At the time of writing this early in the week the future of Kenneth Zohore wasn’t decided. Rowett wanted to keep him past his initial loan – Forest is the last scheduled game – but as of Tuesday no decision had been made.
Then it might depend on whether they can transfer a couple out to get more players in. Even before Covid-19 and all the consequences for clubs, Millwall’s transfer budget was one of the lowest in the division. I think they need another wide player with real pace and who can be a goal threat. Not easy in this window, however.
Who are Millwall’s key players going to be at The City Ground?
Bart Bialkowski has been one of the top keepers in the league for a season and a half, capable of spectacular saves. Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper are usually really reliable at the back, though they would probably be disappointed they haven’t got more goals from attacking set-pieces this season.
They rely a lot on Jed Wallace to get them into good attacking positions, and to be a goal threat. And there’s a lot more to come from Parrott, who has shown glimpses of his talent. Zohore has struggled with his fitness but has shown he’s a real threat when he’s even at 80 per cent. Mason Bennett ran Forest ragged in this game last season, and Matt Smith of course got that hat-trick – though Smith has not been a regular in this campaign.