Fred Onyedinma; Paris Cowan-Hall; Fred Onyedinma again; Fred Onyedinma AGAIN; Jason McCarthy; Jason McCarthy again. Millwall have basically become our feeder club in recent years… Here’s a guide to the visitors in what could be fans’ first game back inside Adams Park.
Founded: 1885 (as Millwall Rovers)
Ground: The Den (since 1993, capacity 20,146)
Second tier seasons: 43 (+2 top flight)
Major honours: N/A
Last season: 8th in Championship
Spurred on by a mid-season change in the dugout, Millwall rallied to their second 8th place finish since returning to the Championship in 2017. Gary Rowett took the reins from Neil Harris with the Lions languishing in 17th – and pretty much made an instant impact. That it lasted the rest of the season suggests that it was more than mere ‘new manager bounce’.
It’s not as though Millwall overachieved, though. They’ve got a good squad down at the Den – Goalkeeper Bartosz Białkowski and influential wide man Jed Wallace were among the standout players in the division as a whole – and victories over eventual champions Leeds and beaten play-off finalists Brentford showed just what they’re capable of. At the moment, all signs point to a strong 2020/21 for the South Londoners.
The gaffer: Gary Rowett
Appointed: October 2019
Previously managed: Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, Burton
Played for: Burton, Charlton, Leicester, Birmingham, Derby, Blackpool, Everton, Cambridge
Millwall league record: P33, W14, D11, L8
A veteran of that day at Leicester in 2001, Rowett is now in his fifth job despite only entering management in 2012. Off the back of last season’s performance and with three play-off finishes on his managerial CV already (although he has lost on all three occasions – twice with Burton and once with Derby) – coupled with a very promising summer on the transfer front so far – there will be a certain expectation for him to take Millwall one step further in 2020/21. “I don’t want us to play the ‘little old Millwall’ card,” he said after their play-off hopes were extinguished in July; that certainly sounds like determination to me.
Local journalist Lucas Ball takes us inside the Den…
Last season saw you once again equal your highest league finish since 1994, after the blip of 2018/19 when you only stayed up by four points. How do you reflect on the season as a whole and how confident are you of pushing on in 2020/21? Under Neil Harris, things had become a little stale and fans were growing impatient with the ever-direct style, which was no longer bringing results with it. A 1-1 draw at Luton extended our winless run to seven or eight games and he stepped down, leaving Adam Barrett in caretaker charge. Barrett did ok, taking three points from nine games and then we plumped for Gary Rowett, which I’m very happy about given our other option was Gareth Ainsworth – as well as he has done with you guys!
Rowett has made tweaks to suit the players and made us hard to beat again, though our home form isn’t as good as it could be. He transformed our away record, though, and I’m excited for the future with him at the helm.
I’m really confident that, with him, we’ll attract better players – and I don’t think the league looks overly strong this season, so another play-off push is an attainable goal.
Rowett has done quite a job as manager so far, clearly. What qualities does he bring to the role and the club? He’s very tactically astute and his understanding of the game is excellent. He appears to be a good man manager and has already helped improve a number of our key players further.
Tactically, we’ve used a variety of systems both at home and away and have experienced success in many of them. Of course, he’s got some decisions wrong, but no manager is perfect.
He holds the team to high standards and his ambition speaks volumes about how he wants to change certain things at the club, the mentality of us always being a team punching above our weight being one of those things. It’s always about improving and not being content after a great season.
The signing that stands out so far is Troy Parrot, who follows in Harry Kane’s footsteps by joining on loan from Spurs. What are your thoughts on that move and where else do you need to add/strengthen? Parrott is a signing that I’m very, very excited by. He has looked sharp in the training videos and his finishing looks very good, which was a problem with all three of our main strikers performing below their xG last season. He looks lively in terms of his movement, so it’s just about how quickly he can adapt to regular senior football. It’s also a huge positive in that it could reopen a relationship with Spurs that was fruitful for us a few years ago under Kenny Jackett, with the likes of Kane, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend and Ryan Fredericks all joining on loan.
Elsewhere, I’d like us to add some pace in the left midfield position and I also think we need to sign an out-and-out left-back. Jayson Molumby returning on loan would be brilliant too – and it is a possibility. There are murmurs that another striker could come in too.*
*Left-back Scott Malone has since joined on loan from Derby, with forward Mason Bennett signing permanently following his own loan spell from the same club
Who do you expect to star for you in 2020/21? Is there anyone you feel is set to have a real breakout year? First and foremost, Jed Wallace. He was the only player in the division to reach 10+ goals and 10+ assists last season and will be keen to continue improving to help us push on. He’s settled with us and that can only help.
[Centre-back] Jake Cooper has also played every minute of something like the last 122 league games and is closing in on a club record. He’s shown improvements on the ball in the 5-2-3 system that we sometimes use and will be key again – as will his partner Shaun Hutchinson. Bartosz Białkowski was probably the best goalkeeper in the league last season and Mahlon Romeo performed very well from right-back.
I’ve gone on a bit there, but Ryan Woods adds real quality in midfield and I think Parrott is capable of scoring 15-20 goals if we get him good service!
Lastly, I have to ask on Wycombe fans’ behalf: What went wrong for Fred Onyedinma at Millwall He’s a real star for us, the fans absolutely love him, and we definitely expect to cut it in the Championship – it’s always felt like a case of ‘Your loss is our gain’! Fred is an interesting one. We knew he had ability and potential, but I think he’s much more suited to being a big fish in a small pond (no offence!) and don’t think he could cope with our crowd. He was on a shorter leash with the fans after his agent almost scuppered him signing a new deal with us following promotion, and then he refused to play when selected a few times at the back end of last season, which is – quite simply – unforgivable.
When we last met
Garry Thompson bagged a brace and Adebayo Akinfenwa (another of our four Millwall alumni – Ryan Allsop is the fourth) scored from the spot as we won 3-1 at the Den – where we’ve only lost once in seven visits this century – in the EFL Trophy in December 2016, en route to the semi-finals. Our most recent meeting in a proper competition, though, came in the FA Cup second round a year earlier (in a repeat of the 2000/01 tie at the same stage). Michael Harriman poked home in the 94th minute to set up a third round draw with Aston Villa. We also did the double the last time we faced each other in league action – in League One in 2009/10 – with Chris Westwood and Kevin Betsy netting away and Julian Kelly at Adams Park.
Did you know…?
Millwall haven’t actually played in the Millwall district of London for over 100 years. They left for the Old Den in New Cross in 1910, while their current home is situated in Bermondsey.
Header photo: Lucas Ball
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