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Are Millwall heading back down to League One?

Drew Goodsell | 27 March 2019

Can the Lions survive the relegation fight?

No one seems to like them, but they don’t care. Millwall are one of those teams that don’t attract much admiration from outside of their own fan base, but they’ll never let it affect the way they go about their business.

After promotion from League One back to the second tier in the 2016/17 season, the Lions had a stellar 2017/18 campaign. They were the surprise package in last year’s Championship, finishing eighth and narrowly missing out on a play-off spot.

They failed to kick on from last season’s highs, and currently sit 20th in the league, lingering dangerously just above the drop zone by one point. What has contributed to their rapid decline, and do their remaining fixtures give them a good chance to beat the drop?

Route one with no plan B

You know exactly what you’re getting when you go and watch Millwall play. Manager Neil Harris has a lot of faith in his ageing side, and it’s a rarity you’ll see a change in his starting XI unless it’s enforced.

Slow and methodical build-up play always allows the opposition to get back into their positions and block any potential counter attacks the Lions go for. It’s not helped by their veteran strike partnership of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory, who are far more suited to their hold-up game than they are sprints against a defence on the break.

In a recent game against league leaders Norwich, the Lions managed to frustrate and hold the Canaries to nothing but scraps for the first 45, going in with a 1-1 scoreline to hold on to.

The second 45 was a tale of two teams with different ideas and ambitions. Norwich switched their approach and adopted a faster, pressing game where they led from the front. Millwall stopped their high press and gifted endless possession to one of the best passing sides in the league. Inevitably, the game ended 3-1 to Norwich with Harris misreading the tactical change and sticking with lumping the ball forward at every opportunity.

The squad doesn’t have the capabilities to play the possession game, they’re weak when they’re attacking, they always look for the cross into their big men in the box and they’re vulnerable on the counter.

They’re an easy side for other teams to set up against due to having arguably the most predictable approach in the league.

George Saville shaped hole in midfield

Four games into the 2018/19 Championship season, Millwall lost their most potent attacking threat from last season. George Saville had been the catalyst for the Lions attack, creating chances rarely expected from a side like Millwall.

He left for Middlesbrough in a loan deal until January, where he’d sign a permanent deal. But Millwall and Harris never replaced his threat, and stuck with what they already had in the middle of the park.

Saville scored 10 league goals last season, while also being heavily involved in all of the Lions forward-thinking play. While he may not have notched too many assists, he was always involved in the build-up play.

This season, their highest scorer in the league is Gregory with eight goals. Shaun Williams is the highest-scoring midfielder for Millwall this year with four, and Shane Ferguson follows up with two. The entire midfield have 10 goals between them, which is a long cry from the feat achieved by Saville last year.

The void has become more obvious with their slip down the table. Partnering that with their lack of a plan B makes it hard to argue that they deserve better from their season.

Tricky fixtures remaining?

Though it looks like two of the three relegation spots are all but decided, with Bolton eight points adrift and in free fall, and Ipswich 13 points behind and with only three wins all season, it’s still not pleasant viewing for Millwall fans when it comes to their nine remaining league fixtures.

With a promotion battle still going strong at the top end of the table, and the relegation battle destined to go down to the wire, the Lions would want to avoid any teams caught up in those fights.

However, they’re unfortunately caught up with fixtures at both ends. They face four of the current top six sides, with away games at Leeds United, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, while facing West Bromwich Albion at the Den.

Wigan Athletic are the only other relegation-threatened side Millwall play in a crucial six-pointer, though as the last game of the season, both sides will be hoping to be clear of any threat by then.

Their fortunes could come down to the form of others around them. Birmingham City have been dragged into the relegation scrap after their nine-point deduction, and having lost four on the spin, they’re another side in free fall.

Rotherham occupy 22nd at present, but they’ve been picking up important wins of late. Their fixtures against Nottingham Forest, Stoke City, Swansea City and Birmingham will go a long way to deciding whether they can remain in the division.

Reading, currently 21st, face an incredibly tough April. They take on Norwich City, Bristol City, West Brom and Middlesbrough after a game against Preston this weekend.

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