Youth Standout In Big Win – Millwall vs Sheffield United Review

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Upon fixture release last summer in June, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one looking out for the two dates in the season when we’d play our opposition from Saturday, Sheffield United. In a division nowhere near as competitive to our promotion season of 09/10, games such as Sheffield United, and even Gillingham provide an extra element based on our meetings in the past. The fixture at Bramall Lane earlier in the season brought the attention of Aiden O’Brien, grabbing both goals as we went on to record a 2-1 victory, this time around, it was no different as two more young players stepped up to the mark in a 1-0 victory at The Den on Saturday.

The main talking point going into Saturday’s game was how we would cope without the presence of loan winger Jed Wallace, who had been called back to his parent club Wolverhampton Wanderers after a very successful spell at The Den. It was in fact Wallace’s replacement, ex-lion Chris Taylor who stepped up to the mark with the only goal of the game in the first minute of his second debut for the club. In a well worked goal, Taylor found himself unmarked at the back post to lash the ball past Long in goal for the visitors, captain Steve Morison playing a huge part in the goal, running behind the defence and putting the ball on a plate for Taylor to finish.

It was the perfect start Harris would’ve hoped for, with a slightly larger crowd in attendance off their feet early on backing the side on to a big 3 points. The crowd at home games has been stale for the majority of the season, however with three years of decline it has clearly had a telling contribution. Saturday felt different, almost the fortress Millwall we had in the early spells of Kenny Jackett’s tenure, with the fans dragging the players along and vice-versa. One huge task Harris had at the start of the season was to win the fans over, and put out a side we as fans would be proud of, and Saturday felt like a huge step towards just that. Home grown players such as Ben Thompson showing the Millwall way, throwing himself into tackle after tackle and grafting for the side, this in turn brings the crowd into play and contributes to the atmosphere.

Thompson was my man of the match for Saturday, going about his job against an experienced Sheffield United side like he had been in the side for years. Himself and Abdou have both been crucial in our recent run of form, hardly ever losing the midfield battle and making a real impression on games, both are similar with their ability to tirelessly run and chase the game, however Thompson has an added composure on the ball, looking to play the right pass to Gregory and Morison; who were both handfuls on Saturday up front. What stuck out in the memory was Thompson’s reading of the game, knowing the right time to play safe, but equally the occasions to set off an attack, the young midfielder also contributes massively to the work rate of the side, something preached from Harris throughout the season.

It took Thompson a couple of spells in and out of the team to get where he is now, but he is certainly showing the more experienced pros such as Upson and Williams how it’s done to play for a club like Millwall. Williams has been the subject of abuse from fans, with the midfielder often taking to Twitter to call out the fans directing angry tweets his way. To be honest, some of the stick might go too far, but the midfielder has been below par for much of the season and is rightly so being kept out of the team by Thompson and Abdou. He will get a chance on the weekend away to Bradford City, with Abdou unable to play due to a call-up to his national side. I expect Williams to learn from his time on the sidelines, and hopefully recapture the form we’ve seen in drips and drabs from him. It will certainly be an added addition to the side if that was the case, however it remains to be seen.

Another player who impressed again on Saturday was young full back Mahlon Romeo (who was the feature in my last blog post on this site!), another youngster who has taken the opportunity presented his way and keeping an experienced player such as Carlos Edwards away from the starting XI. What is refreshing to see from Romeo is the ability to carry the ball and travel at speed, for a full back we don’t often see such traits from a Shaun Cummings or a Joe Martin, there seems to often be an end product from Romeo also. Perhaps it’s the lack of fear young players often bring into the side. Again, we will be without Romeo on the weekend, travelling to join up with the Antigua and Barbuda side, unfortunately due to being in League One we were going to deal with this threat eventually, with Shane Ferguson and David Forde also receiving call ups. With what is left in the squad, and a couple of call ups for Bradford also you’d think we’d have enough to go up to Valley Parade and be competitive, however I’m sure we all remember the last time we played at Bradford…

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Mahlon Romeo – Youth Watch

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A revelation in recent weeks since his debut in our 3-0 win away to Walsall, Mahlon Romeo has quickly become a fan favourite and cemented his place in the team as our first choice right back. Known for his undoubted raw pace, along with his composure on the ball, we’ve somehow unearthed a hidden gem. It was the perfect debut at the Bescott Stadium, with a superbly taken goal and a clean sheet; the most important for any defender.

Romeo started his youth career as a school boy at the prestigious Arsenal academy at the age of 14, then a winger he had spent two years with Arsenal before being deemed not good enough for the high standards set at The Gunners and was released in 2012. In the same summer he had signed a two-year scholarship with Gillingham, forming part of their under 18’s side and earning a youth loan to Dover Athletic in January 2013 having his first taste of senior football. Going on to make only one appearance for The Gills in his three years with the club, Romeo left in search for a new challenge, earning his move to The Lions.

During the latter stages of his spell at Gillingham the young full back earned a senior call up to the international scene with Antigua and Barbuda, playing a part in the country’s attempts to secure qualification for the World Cup. Romeo has also provided versatility for his side, playing down the right flank whether it be full back or lining up as a winger.

Having signed for the club last summer for the development squad, he is a clear example for any to follow that if you take your chance in the senior side you’ll stay in the side. Which is exactly manager Neil Harris has promised throughout the whole season, with the like of Thompson, Nelson and Onyedinma all having runs in the side this season. The club deserve credit, with the new recruitment team finding these younger players and getting them into the club, and then the rest of the work is done by Neil Harris and under 21’s manager Justin Skinner. Playing the same style of football and setup in the 21’s then benefits players who make the step up to the first team, knowing exactly their role in the side when the opportunity presents itself.

Since coming into the side, as a fan it’s refreshing to see a talent such as Romeo get a chance to play, having seen Romeo play a number of games now I can’t help but compare the youngster to Carlos Edwards. Having Edwards around the squad he provides the perfect mentor for Romeo, with Harris praising the influence Edwards has on the squad due to his tonnes of experience. Calm on the ball and willing to look for the pass, along with his undoubted pace with and without the ball, you wouldn’t be surprised if I was mentioning Edwards with that sentence. Instead it’s youngster Romeo who seems to have all the tools to go on and have a successful career.

We seem to have a conveyer belt of youngsters again, in a successful development division pushing for the title, as well as being the only League One side to reach the quarter finals of the 21’s cup losing to former Premier League side Hull, with West Ham, Hull City, Liverpool and Huddersfield the teams in the semi final. It’s all positive signs that the club is making a step in the right direction with Philpot, Chesmain, Mbulu and Romeo all grabbing headlines, the success won’t happen over night and the key is to hold onto these types of players for the long run. If we are forced into a sale, which the club promise isn’t the case we need to ensure we get the right price for these players.

Of course we shouldn’t get carried away, however the future is certainly bright if we can keep picking up these sort of talents in the future.

Two Points Dropped At The County Ground – Swindon vs Millwall Review

 

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Saturday saw Millwall travel to The County Ground to face off against in-form Swindon Town. Having won their last four games in the league, scoring goals for fun it was always going to be an testing day for The Lions, but having not lost on the road since the 2nd of January, we as fans had a right to expect a positive result traveling to Swindon on Saturday. Backed by a large number of traveling supporters, it felt like an occasion where a Millwall side would turn-up and take all 3 points, sending the traveling fans home happy.

2pm brought the team news with the promise of an unchanged XI from our 3-0 win at home to struggling Blackpool, probably the best side available to us at the moment with suspension keeping left back Joe Martin away from the side. In Martin’s place for the last couple of games we’ve had the experienced head of Carlos Edwards, who despite picking up a knock and suffering injury last week managed to regain fitness to keep his position. Unfortunately for us, Edwards would go on to have a telling contribution to Swindon’s first goal in their comeback to claim a 2-2 draw. Elsewhere in defence we had the familiar partnership of Mark Beevers and Byron Webster, with Mahlon Romeo taking up the right back position. League One player of the month Jordan Archer kept his hands on the number one jersey in goal.

In midfield we had the combination of Ben Thompson and Jimmy Abdou, both willing runners and able to put themselves about in the centre of the park. Thompson in particular has been a great addition to the side in recent weeks, having to wait for his chance over the xmas period, he has fitted in seamlessly and both him and Abdou seemed to have formed an understanding so quickly. Keeping Williams out of the side isn’t an easy task, however you’d hope the experienced Williams will take note of the performances Thompson is putting in, instead of taking to Twitter to complain about the stick he is receiving from the stands. I would agree some of the stick is uncalled for and perhaps a level too far, but the adequate response from Williams would be to graft for the side and just show he cares, he will then quickly be forgiven instead of being used as a scapegoat. Shane Ferguson and Jed Wallace completed the four man midfield taking their usual positions on either flank, with Wallace as always looking dangerous on the right, perhaps not his greatest game in a Millwall shirt though.

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Elsewhere we had the continued combination in the final third of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory, with both again netting as we claimed two goals in the first 11 minutes. The perfect start Neil Harris would’ve hoped for, as a short corner routine brought a far post tap-in and a 22nd goal of the season for Gregory, I don’t think we need to continually mention his improvement, but it’s refreshing to have a player in the side who contributes goals and only goals to the side. As mentioned above current captain Morison also got in on the action with a goal himself on 11 minutes, racing through following a poor clearance from the Swindon Town goalkeeper to make it three goals in his last three games. Despite being more of a provider for Gregory in his current role, the experienced front man has certainly stepped up his game in recent weeks adding crucial goals on a consistent basis.

Having managed to stay in control for the first 45 minutes, we thoroughly deserved our lead at the break keeping an in-form side quiet at home. I’m sure the message from Harris at half time would’ve been to see more of the same, and despite having a slow start to the second half it felt like we still had control of our own journey, expecting Swindon to throw everything at us in an attempt to get back in the game. The breakthrough came just after the hour mark, as mentioned above with 37 year old Edwards slow of the mark against the Swindon full back, having got into the box, the Swindon player was brought down by Edwards with the referee judging the challenge as a foul. Up stepped Swindon’s own form man Nicky Ajose to convert the penalty past Jordan Archer, despite guessing the right way Archer couldn’t quite keep the effort out.

From then on it was one way traffic all aimed at the Millwall goal, and despite keeping the chances down to a minimum with Archer having been tested from solely long range efforts, it felt like a second goal was only around the corner. Trying to bring fresh energy into the side during the closing stages Harris brought on Aiden O’Brien and Ed Upson for Lee Gregory and Carlos Edwards, bringing a re-shuffle placing Ferguson at left back and Upson just in front of the Northern Ireland man. Looking with hindsight, O’Brien felt like the wrong option, having only come into the game the forward looked lethargic, With O’Brien not having a run in the side for recent weeks you’d think he’d put more of a shift in to chase down the game and work from the front for the side and make an impression, I’m sure it’s something he would’ve done at the start of the season. Instead of O’Brien perhaps an option such as Jamie Philpot, a player in hot form for the under 21’s and looking to make an impression may have been the wiser choice.

The second finally came in what was the last meaningful attack of the game, having failed to clear a delivery into the box, Doughty was on hand to head home the equaliser and blow away our 2-0 lead, taking home a point instead of all three. Heart breaking stuff, and something we haven’t been used to seeing this season where we’ve normally been so good on the road killing games after taking the advantage. Next up, a big home clash, and probably the biggest game of the season at home to Sheffield United, with the lack of big sides in this division it was certainly a game I looked out for last June when the fixtures were released. Having brought our form away from home back to our home games, and I’m sure a larger crowd then in previous weeks, it’s setup to be a good occasion.

The Den Hoodoo

Tuesday saw another poor, dull – I don’t even know what other words – performance from the players at The Den. The complete opposite to what we’ve seen on the road, where we’ve recorded five wins on the bounce, recording three clean sheets in a row away to Oxford, Walsall and Rochdale. So why can’t we carry these performances to The Den? A place where we’ve struggled for what seems like years and years, carrying on from even the time as Kenny Jackett as manager.

A side which has only lost four times away from home, taking an average of 1.88 points per game, scoring 1.88 and conceding only 1.19 goals a game, with a win percentage of 56%. These stats are remarkable, and comparable to our home form, you’d think that the above were our home form; actual home averages – 1.33 points per game, scoring 1.20 and conceding 1.40 per game, and a win ratio of 40%, each stat is worse on reflection to our away form.

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Neil Harris has often mentioned we need to make The Den a fortress, and we need to be the assertive force in games and win the fans over. Having that expectancy is one thing, but the performances on show at home are far from that. The atmosphere at home is poor, away games are far more entertaining and enjoyable from a fans point of view, perhaps we don’t have the same level of expectancy away from home and any sort of positive result sends fans home happy. But every home game it just feels different, a small mistake brings moan and groans, these sort of thing are amplified when at The Den and it’s clear young players like Nelson enjoy playing away from home more to avoid the fans.

Perhaps there is an argument that our tactics lean to away games, where we seem to do well with sitting deep, and attacking directly to the likes of Gregory and Morison up top and making the ball stick. However at home games we are allowed more possession from the opposition, where we don’t seem to have the players in midfield who can dictate the play of the game, maybe a change of formation for home games could be beneficial? Players such as Jack Powell and Shaun Williams both seem to struggle in a 4-4-2 and perform better in a 3-man midfield, the kind of setup to dominate the ball and allow time to pick their passes. At the minute all we seem to be able to do at home is aim the ball towards Morison, and teams gather round Morison to win the second ball and come back at us.

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Millwall manager Kenny Jackett holds the Coca-Cola Football League One trophy with Paul Robinson (left) after the final whistle

Previous Millwall teams which have done well at The Den in my memory, are fast out of the block, putting pressure on the opposition which then brings the fans into the game. The year of promotion under Kenny Jackett, he cited throughout the season that 10,000 at The Den on-song were like 20-30,000 and a huge asset to his side. The same season we had only lost twice at The Den, carrying that form into the second half of the season and managed to kick on and chase for the top two.

I’m sure Harris is well aware of how to win the fans onside, someone who was part of many a successful Millwall team, but this seems like something which won’t change over night. Fans need to stick with the players in the same way as away games, which isn’t an easy request, however I’m sure we will see a huge response tomorrow afternoon come kick-off against Peterborough

Lee Gregory Scoring Goals

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It’s happened, Lee Gregory has now gone on a sustained run of form, scoring goals in each and every game! When we had spent the £250k in the summer of 2014, we had all hoped this day would come, a lot had lost faith, but others have been adamant we would see this day; I have to admit I had began to lose faith myself. It’s worth noting I don’t agree with booing players, or even reaching the player on social media to throw abuse their way, but I’m sure even fans most critical of Gregory would be happy to see the player bring consistent goals to his game, a forward finally replicating his form which had earned his move to The Football League.

I don’t think anyone has ever doubted his effort for the club, we can all see that on a game by game basis Gregory runs himself into the ground for the team, and he himself has worked that bit harder to get in the position he is in now. I feel where I perhaps lost faith in the forward was during last season, of course you can argue he should’t be judged in his first season as a pro, but during last season I felt he had missed chances he is now burying with ease. Chances that stick in the mind are those away to Rotherham and Bolton, both one on one chances you’d now put your house on him scoring tomorrow, in these instances both of these games were crucial in our season, and at the time would’ve put us in a much better position. Not to blame Gregory for relegation, we all know where to portion blame for last season…

In case you happen to be unaware, since the turn of the year Gregory has now scored nine goals in all competitions, and we are only half way through February. One goal at Oldham, two against Port Vale, one at Chesterfield, one against Crewe, one at Oxford in the JPT, two at Walsall and finally one at Rochdale on Saturday. What do we owe this change of form to? It’s often said confidence is key in a run of goals for a forward; and Gregory certainly isn’t short of that at the minute. However one change in the team I believe has been key for Gregory has been the addition of Wolves loanee Jed Wallace, a player who has been a constant threat down the right hand side, he clearly has the brief from Harris of getting the service in the box for the forwards, and Gregory seems to have formed an understanding with Wallace.

Prime examples of this understanding can be spotted in the 8 goals scored in the video below, half of which coming through Jed Wallace assists. Wallace seems a cut above the rest of our squad, and I think we should enjoy having the winger while we do so, as there will be next to no chance of keeping him beyond this season. Ability wise on the ball I can’t remember having a better player in the last few years, his directness when on the ball catches out the opposition and I’m sure even his team mates can’t predict what he will do when on the ball. If I had to pick someone for Fred Onyedinma to watch and learn from, it would have to be Wallace and his playing style.

Another key influence, which has been mentioned from Gregory and other forward options has been the coaching from club legend Neil Harris, I suppose to understand this club and score goals for Millwall you won’t find a better mentor than the manager himself. Gregory has been very vocal of the relationship he has with Harris, and it’s clear all the work which has been done since pre-season has now been rewarded with the run of form Gregory is now on. To have a forward on 19 goals with 2-3 months left in the season is something we aren’t used to seeing as fans, but it’s certainly a welcome surprise for everyone. Given the age of Gregory and arguably in his prime, you’d hope he can continue this form for a few more seasons yet, however the real test would be if he could carry this into The Championship, if we were to win promotion this season. If we create the chances like we have done so far in 2016, there is no reason why this run of form couldn’t continue for a while yet.

The Importance Of A Central Defensive Partnership

After last weeks postponement away to Oldham – Which I was 5 minutes away from on a tram – it has given the squad a chance to have a break and recharge before the start of the Christmas fixtures. Within the next two weeks we face arguably some of the form teams in the league, with Gillingham first tomorrow, then Walsall on boxing day, another trip to Southend a couple of days after and finally a trip to Barnsley on the 2nd of January. This time of year is always considered an important time of the year, if you manage a run of wins you can easily fly up the league standings, throwing yourself into the mix going into the new year.

I guess if you said at the start of pre-season we would be 8th, 3 points off 6th place Wigan with a game in hand and in the area final of the JPT we would all have agreed to that. Having seen 18 players depart from last seasons squad I’m sure our manager would’ve taken the offer too. I guess winning at Shrewsbury got us all carried away and we was quickly brought back down to earth, losing all four of our first home games of the season. I think the vital change, which will please Harris most is making our ground a fortress once again, with teams no longer turning up and beating us on a regular basis. Any successful side has to take the majority of points at home, it was the same story under McGhee’s side as it was with Jackett’s promotion winning side. However we’ve also had some memorable away days along the way with the biggest of the lot winning at Brammel Lane thanks to an Aiden O’Brien double.

Enough of the reminiscing, we can save that for the end of the season when we win the play-off final on penalties. Our recent form has been a bit up and down, only collecting 3 points out of a possible 9 against Fleetwood, Bury and Burton. We also managed to suffer defeat to League Two Wycombe in the second round of the FA Cup, however seemed to have got our momentum back with our last game, a great win at Southend in the JPT. I feel if we had to put the indifferent form down to anything, it would be due to having the much questioned smaller squad. Having suffered injuries and suspensions, we’ve found it difficult to patch the side up for the type of games against Burton, with Webster missing out due to collecting his fifth yellow. Playing Saturday and then Tuesday for the few weeks we did cost us, and perhaps a slightly bigger squad would’ve coped with the situation.

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Millwall v Colchester United, SkyBet League 1, 21, November, 2015, at The New Den. MANDATORY CREDIT: Keith Gillard

Going into the season I think all of us were worried at the prospect of Byron Webster lining up in defence, Harris made a point in pre-season that Webster wanted to come back and prove his worth. Unfortunately for Webster, he couldn’t have got off to a poorer start with Jon Akinde ripping the defender to shreds against Barnet in the League Cup. But in recent weeks himself and Beevers have managed to form a partnership that seems to cope with anything thrown their way. Away to Burton, not because of Sid Nelson we struggled with the Burton front line, the movement was great and as normal in these situations Nelson couldn’t form the understanding right away with Beevers. I think in the two games he played against Burton and Wycombe Nelson done his job well, but the lack of understanding in defence which you get from a partnership cost us, the two games made me appreciate Beevers and Webster at the back together more than ever.

When you picture your ideal central defenders you want the two to compliment each other, being left and right footed helps for the balance in the side, but you also look for other attributes such as one taller and another much quicker. However, both Beevers and Webster are very similar players, both tall and neither quicker than the other. Perhaps the level we are at we can get away with playing both, but in the Championship against talented players we would be punished due to a lack of pace in the backline. Both have done very well together, and have helped settled the side despite losing Craig for the rest of the season, both also chip in with goals from set plays and contribute to the goals tally.

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So for the Southend game Harris reverted to the pairing of Beevers and Webster, rightly so and they both had solid games and kept a clean sheet against a side known for their fast attacking forwards With this in mind, barring injury we probably won’t see Nelson in the side for the next few games, like I mentioned I don’t think he was bad in any of the games, but what can you do when it’s clear how much better Webster and Beevers look as a pair. With Craig probably out for the rest of the season, Nelson is the only backup option we have and will get chances for the rest of the season when injury or suspension strikes, however I feel us not providing regular football will hinder Nelson’s progress. We all saw last season in the last few games what Nelson is about, and he clearly has the potential to be with us for a long time, but for a central defender at his age he needs games on a regular basis. Whether that means a loan spell to a League Two, or even Conference side I think it should be explored as an option. We of course would need to bring cover in first, so the chances of this happen are slim, but Nelson does need game time to develop.

Looking at tomorrow and the run of fixtures at this festive time of year, the minimum should be winning your home games, and then you never know, hopefully a win at either Southend or Barnsley, maybe, even a win at both?

Poor First Half Proves Costly – Burton vs Millwall Review

Tuesday night brought a second consecutive defeat on the road for Millwall, following on from last weeks loss up at Fleetwood. In fact, the game last night was a repeat of last week, going down 2-1 after surrendering a two goal lead, leaving a mountain for us to climb late on. Towards the end of the game we were great, but it was just wanting that final touch of class from one of your forwards to win the game. Before the game I was mentioning how in this sort of game you need your seasoned pro (Morison) to be counted and be the match winner. I’m not blaming yesterdays loss on Morison, but against a side right up the top, you want your big players to step up and be counted for, as Morison has done in the past.

An hour before kick off, the team news showed that Harris had elected to drop/rest top scorer Gregory, opting for O’Brien and Morison up top, with Onyedinma also floating around to make it a front three. Last Tuesday I was critical that not enough changes were made from our game against Colchester, and this time the changes were made, with Upson also coming out of the side despite playing well Saturday. However, despite these changes the performance early on last night was just as flat as the Fleetwood performance a week earlier, neither side were at their best, but a bit of quality for Burton in the final third was the ultimate decider of the match result. El Khayati, (don’t ask me how to pronounce that!) was the danger man for Burton, and was pointed out before the match also, having scored 8 goals this season from the wide position, he was a constant threat down the left, and probably too good for Burton and will move on to a higher level I’m sure. He was against Cummings at full back, although I felt it wasn’t Cummings’ worst performance for us, he was just up a handful of a player for the opposition.

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The first goal for the home side came from a training routine set piece we failed to pick up, danger man mentioned above managed to beat Cummings, and was eventually brought down just outside of the box down the left by midfielder Saville. The set-piece caught Millwall out, played across the floor and was stroked into the back of the net, Archer got a hand to the effort, so will probably be disappointed to not tip it over but it was a difficult ask as it flew off the crossbar and into the net. For the first time in a long while, conceding the goal seemed to destroy the confidence in the side, and we just fell to pieces for their second goal. Coming from a corner of our own, Fred had a header cleared, and before you know it El Khayati was on the end of a counter attack for the home side to guide it past Archer in goal. I’m sure Harris will be disappointed to see the side fall to pieces in the manner it happened, it’s not been a trait of ours for much of the season, and to watch it play out was disappointing. With still time to play in the first half, Archer was called into two or three great saves to even keep us in the game, making point blank saves as the defence allowed Burton to keep creating chances.

The ref eventually ended the first half, with Harris I’m sure having a few words with his side at half time. He made two substitutions at the break, bringing on Gregory and Thompson, replacing Ferguson and Saville, with Saville still lucky to be on the pitch in the first half, committing a couple of fouls which were late tackles and probably a second yellow would’ve been justified. Ferguson was poor in the first half also, when we don’t have the ball he often goes missing in games, and at times when he has the ball at feet due to not being a tower he will often get shoved off the ball. Thompson coming on looked really solid in the middle of the park, using his energy to get himself about the park and he done his job well, perhaps a chance in the side on Saturday in the cup might be justified, with Saville also cup tied.

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The second half as a whole was much better, while Gregory didn’t take the chance which fell to him, having him in the side offered the option to get in behind the Burton back four, and it caused lots of issues for their defence, just shows how crucial pace is in football. Fred on the right was a constant threat and despite taking numerous hits from the Burton full back, kept picking himself up and going again, beating his man time and time again, his end product might not be there yet, but the stick he has received from some is totally unjustified. At 19, he will make mistakes, as he is not the finished article, but with Fred in the side we play better going forward, due to his pace and skill on the ball. Our consolation came with 10 left on the clock, with Joe Martin grabbing his first Millwall goal, another set play, Martin found himself in the goal mouth and managed to tap it home. We then had a couple of chances before the end, with Gregory having the best chance, but having decided to cut and twist in the box his effort was cleared. In the build up to that chance, it seemed to every travelling fan that O’Brien was taken out in the box with the ball falling to Gregory, but the referee wasn’t interested in the claims.

I will attempt to mention the referee with out being biased, but what a terrible referee once again in our games, I mentioned the penalty appeal for O’Brien but also a number of other decisions just were crazy to everyone in the stadium, with even Burton fans questioning the referee’s display. Looking as a neutral, Saville was lucky to still be on the pitch, going in late while already on a yellow, Fred was on numerous occasions tackled late with nothing given. And the big call at the end, the decision to send off Mark Beevers for going in late on the goalkeeper, I felt it was a harsh decision, but maybe I would say that? It just seemed that Beevers had done nothing to earn the second booking, it means Webster will come straight back into the side along Nelson on Saturday, which will be an interesting game for sure.

Ultimately, the poor start cost us, a second defeat in a row on the road, it’s worth noting as long as we still pickup points at home we will be fine. Burton are now top of the league, so it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom, but they weren’t the best side we have faced this season. I think that’s what leaves the sour taste, when the side is poor you question what if, because we have a team on their day more than capable of winning. Role on Saturday, Wycombe in the cup.

Noah Chesmain – Youth Watch

Anyone who attended the game last Saturday, at home to Bury would’ve seen the introduction in the second half of 17 year old left back Noah Chesmain. Replacing the injured Shane Ferguson, it marked his first ever appearance in his professional career, with many wondering where this latest player had come from.

Now a second year scholar, Chesmain has come right the way through the academy setup, playing for the clubs youth teams from a young age. A left back now by trade, he is also capable of playing further up the pitch in a couple of different roles. He made his first outing for the senior side during the current pre-season campaign, being offered cameo roles in games against Bromley and AFC Wimbledon as a late substitute.

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First impressions from the games I’ve seen him is we have an athletic player, who can get forward and is good on the ball, perhaps missing a bit of height which is useful in defence, he also has an eye for a shot when played further forward. I saw a couple of youth games last season, and he seemed a very good footballer, judging him already in senior games is difficult, but even in the ten minutes on Saturday he seemed a player not scared to hide away from a challenge. Perhaps now he has had a taste and is still young, a loan spell might be worthwhile for Chesmain, allowing him to adjust to senior football on a weekly basis.

Along with fellow youngsters Girling, Ndoji and Mulroney-Skinner, he managed to make an initial breakthrough last season into the clubs U21 development side, managed then by current first team manager Neil Harris. Chesmain managed to make a slight claim to fame with a great winner away to Premier League side Swansea City in an U21 league match last season. Working the ball onto his stronger left foot and having a go from 25 yards, leaving the keeper no chance as it flew into the top corner.

I mentioned it above, but it’s great to see the youngster get a chance in the side, and also play with no fear, coming into the game with the score 1-0 and the opposition applying pressure is never easy, especially for a debutant 17 year old. It indicates the faith Neil Harris has in the youngster, who was aware of the player during his time as U21 manager. This clearly highlights the benefit of Harris working within the club before taking on the role as the senior manager, allowing Harris to establish relationships with the players, and also allowing him to learn their game inside out.

For years, we haven’t had any players come through to the first team and leave an impression, however in this season alone we’ve seen O’Brien, Nelson, Onyedinma, Thompson, Pavey and now Chesmain all step up and have a chance to stake a claim in the side. We hear murmurings in the background that this is only the beginning, with players in the current setup representing England through the youth levels. And with the under 18 side also highlighting more players with big wins in the cup, it indicates a bright future with a chance almost guaranteed to a player if they show the level of commitment required by Neil Harris.

Superb Defensively And Three Big Points

Saturday saw The Lions record another win at home, taking the tally to 5 for the season, now unbeaten in 6 in front of our own fans. A great turnaround to the start of the season, where it seemed we would never manage to win a game at home. Doesn’t make for bad reading, we have climbed to 7th place, with a game in hand on both Wigan and Peterborough in 5th and 6th, although our low goal difference could be an issue at the end of the season, with a +4 goal difference. But it was the perfect way to bounce back after our poor result and performance up at Fleetwood.

I think we all agree, when leaving the ground, it wasn’t a dominant win for us, it was one of those back against the wall wins where we dug deep and earned a clean sheet and more importantly a win. However it wasn’t a game where Archer was the hero with countless saves, but we might have seen the save of the season from the young shot stopper. The first chance of the game brought that save from Archer, with a free kick from the right met with a header, and with it seemingly going in, Archer clawed the ball from behind and made a terrific save, probably the best we will see for some time. From now on we will refer to it as ‘that save’, as it will be spoke about for a long while.

Aside from the standout save, it felt like a well earned win, credit to Bury, who have a decent set of players and look like a team which might be in the mix come the end of the season. Leon Clarke has managed to score 12 goals in all competitions this season, however against us today he didn’t have a single chance on goal, with both Beevers and Webster having great games. Every ball into the box was cleared, all tackles were perfectly timed, whenever Clarke got the ball he was prevented from doing anything. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was sceptical as to whether Beevers and Webster could work together, both are less mobile, and in a partnership you’d ideally want to cover every aspect, but the pair together have been a hit, which makes it more annoying that we will be without Webster on Tuesday night. Having been booked for the 5th time this season, he will sit out our trip to Burton, meaning Sid Nelson will get a first start since September. I don’t doubt that Nelson will give 100% on Tuesday, and he will be captain one day at Millwall for sure, however with both Beevers and Webster having great games against Bury, you’d want to keep changes at the back to a minimum.

A notable absentee in the lineup when announced at two o’clock was the name of stand-in captain Steve Morison, with Morison taking his place on the bench for the game. It later emerged that Morison was suffering with illness, and despite being told to stay home and recover, he turned up and declared himself available if Harris needed him. It’s that sort of commitment we have enjoyed this season from the frontman, no one was sure how it would go with him coming back for a third time, but he has been my player of the season so far. When you’re looking to hold on to a 1-0 win there isn’t much better at this level than Morison, his game management is incredible. What’s also very noticeable this season from Morison is he is relishing being a senior player in the side, he is clearly respected by all the players and constantly offers advice to the team and the younger players in the squad. He is enjoying being at the club, and that is all down to playing for his close mate Neil Harris, credit to the manager for this signing.

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So with Morison out, the captain for the day was Shaun Williams, he won’t ever lead in the same way as Morison, but I thought he led by playing his game to the best of his ability. On Tuesday night at Fleetwood he had his poorest game in a long while, and I personally thought he might have been dropped for the game, but he was a different player against Bury on Saturday, running the midfield in the first half with quick movement and playing at a high tempo when with the ball. Even in the second half, despite being on the back foot and having to chase the game, he handled the midfield well and was the first player to throw himself into tackles. Just need the same performance from him every week please! Ed Upson also deserves a special mention for his work effort and tracking back, having been on the bench for the last few games you could tell he wanted to make the most of his chance, and fully deserved the ovation he received when being substituted towards the end. Playing with Ferguson behind him, he had more of a job to do defensively on Saturday, but done so to perfection.

Next step, Burton away on Tuesday…

A Jimmy Abdou Game – Fleetwood Review

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Tuesday saw our first defeat in 10 matches away to Fleetwood Town at Higbury. Our first ever appearance at their new ground, it was your typical Tuesday night weather up north with rain, and more rain on the forecast. I assure you, it was a great choice to stand in the terraces instead of getting a seat in their new stand! It just didn’t get going for our side from start to finish, and we eventually lost 2-1 to the better side on the night, a very good footballing side I have to add. At times their front three of Henan, Ball and Fosu were unplayable, it seemed a delibarate ploy from their manager to opt for the quicker options up top, and they caused the centre half pairing of Beevers and Webster countless problems throughout. Fosu inparticular stuck out as a promising winger, on loan from Reading while Henan proved a threat with the ball at feet, he is also on loan from Everton. It shows the young talent is out there in the leagues above us, with speculation we will be looking to bring another forward in before the loan deadline is upon us this evening.

It’s never nice to lose, but it was going to happen at some point, it just felt like a poor performance when watching the game. Perhaps the side was in need of a change or two, but even then if we lost we’d say you never change a winning team. Harris was full of praise for Fleetwood, and I completely agree, but if our best side showed up we would certainly have been a match for Fleetwood. Against a side that pass the ball instead of lumping to the big man up front I couldn’t help but feel if we had Jimmy Abdou we would have been more of a match for Fleetwood. Saville and Williams have been great in our 9 game run without defeat, but Williams inparticular had a very poor game, and I felt if we had Jimmy in the side, we would’ve stopped Fleetwood from wanting to play their game. Agreed, Abdou isn’t the best ball playing midfielder, but away from home occasionally you have games where you are chasing the ball, and need to be at your best to win it back, Abdou does this with ease as we all know. We haven’t missed him since his injury, with Tuesday night being the first defeat since his injury, but I certainly left the game appreciating what he offers to the side.

Fleetwood Stats

Back to the game the stats show you all you need to know, we were beaten in every stat going forward, giving away a lot of possesion is tolerable away from home, but with 63% in favour of the home side it’s worth noting they were also very direct when they had the ball, passing it around with a high tempo and playing very wide across the pitch. To be honest, we stood up well defensively and were undone by two set-pieces, despite their attackers giving our defence a lot to do, we prevented many clear cut chances and defended the 18 yard box without many problems. With this in mind it makes the defeat even more difficult to take, it was a flat performance from the XI selected, before the game I wondered whether there would be any changes from the weekend. Being away from home the one change I hoped to have happened was the introduction of Fred Onyedinma, he offers the ability when under pressure to take the ball and carry up to the other end at pace. O’Brien seemed fatigued on Tuesday night and I was surprised Harris decided to keep him on, it shows how important the youngster is to the side, with his ability to offer something out of nothing, but with the fans also begging for a sub, Harris was loyal to the XI and we were eventually punished.

The first goal came from a corner which was only cleared as far as taker Fosu, he then fizzed the ball back in which met the head of Jonsson who only had to direct it goalwards. Harris eventually brought Fred on with 10 minutes remaining and he was immediately involved, having a first time volley saved by keeper Maxwell, but it felt like a case of too little too late. The second came from sub Grant for the home side, who noticed Archer way out of goal at corners and went for goal from the set play, with Archer unable to prevent the effort going in. A first noticable mistake for Archer, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to this on Saturday at home to Bury. I hope and very sure that he won’t let it effect him, and with Pressman as his coach he is in good hands to bounce back and not worry about the mistake. Our consolation came with the last kick of the game through defender Byron Webster, making it two goals in as many games for the defender, suppose it is one goal to add to the goals scored tally, but does little to raise the travelling fans confidence.

None of us left doubting the effort from the side, but it felt like it was a game that could have been managed better from the touchline, it feels weird to even attempt to raise a critercism of the legend Harris. If a sub or two was thrown on earlier, I along with everyone else on the terrace thought it could change the outcome of the game. Fleetwood had corner after corner, and kept knocking on the door until they got the breakthrough they deserved. But lets not beat ourselves up too badly, one defeat in ten replicated for the rest of the season will get us near the very top of the table, only one way to retaliate and that’s to get the 3 points on Saturday at home to Bury.