A week is now completed in our first season back in League One, during this time we’ve beaten newly promoted Shrewsbury away, however we’ve also now lost two in a row at home to League Two Barnet in the cup, and a drubbing to now league favourites Coventry City. Despite starting well, we are still struggling to win at home, performances have looked completely different to the opener at Shrewsbury, and the team is struggling for confidence and looks a defeated team before taking to The Den turf. What is going wrong with the side? Saturday’s team was exactly the same as last weekend, when we let Shrewsbury have only one shot on target. However against Coventry we were caught chasing shadows the whole game. Today I will discuss what I believe is going wrong, along with what is missing from the side.
A common trend against both Barnet and Coventry is that without the ball they both packed the midfield with a total of 5 players compared to our 4. Doing this allows their side to win the ball, and therefore counter with an extra body in midfield, hence as we saw throughout on Saturday leaves us chasing shadows in the midfield. In games where you’re chasing the ball having a midfield pairing of Williams and Upson doesn’t work, both of these are not renowned for their tackling or closing down play. In a game such as this you need a midfielder either willing to run or another who can stamp their authority on the game, two players who are capable of this is Jimmy Abdou and Nicky Bailey. Obviously Bailey is no longer with us since being released in the summer, however I believe not trying to keep him is a huge oversight from Harris. Agreed last season he was constantly injured and on a high wage which he wasn’t earning, however that 8 game spell under Holloway when we stayed up Bailey for me was the sole reason behind us staying up. He is capable of any role in the midfield, whether it be chasing the ball down, or taking both the ball and the player in a near assault tackle, what Bailey also brought to the team was the ability to switch play and martial the team when up against a better footballing side. He is a leader in the middle of the park and has he experience and know how to win games when up-against it. When Shaun Williams first joined he promised to be this sort of player, however throughout his time with us he has deteriorated as a player and looks nothing compared to the one we bought a year and a half ago. His best game for us was at the start of last season away to Sheffield Wednesday, not only did he have a high pass completion this day but a lot of these passes were direct passes going forward, completely different from how he played on Saturday.
Both Williams and Upson were non-existent against Coventry, and when they had the ball at their feet looked average, often with a lack of directness when on the ball. Despite being poor I don’t particularly blame Upson and Williams for the loss on Saturday, despite being the home team we found Coventry were the team dominating the ball, showing they have an ability to keep the ball and pass around us the whole game with ease. Each time we had the ball we were desperate and hopelessly aiming the ball towards Steve Morison and Lee Gregory, however each time Reida Johnson had an easy day of winning headers unchallenged. The signing of Morison is a very good one, he looks keen to impress and prove any doubters wrong and so far along with Fred has been the standout over the last 3 games we’ve had. However what Steve Morison cannot do is win headers every single time he goes up for them against a 6ft 5 central defender, nor should we expect him to do so. I believe if we are pursuing this style of play, what fans call ‘The Millwall Way’, we need to have a player who can win these headers every time he goes for the header. Despite playing with wingers we never used them throughout the game on Saturday, and when we did we had our best chances of scoring.
I’m sure and hope Harris is aware of what went wrong, and hopefully Tuesday we will see a team confident and looking to widen the pitch. After the game on Saturday during his post match interview a few quotes were telling, with Harris stating he believes some players don’t know how to play at The Den. While alarming that he has only just found this out, it at least provides confidence that he is willing to make changes after seeing how his team performed on Saturday. What do you believe went wrong and why can’t we win at home?