Your essential look ahead to the weekend’s action
We’re back – after the international break. It feels surreal saying that, doesn’t it? It was even more surreal to see a Wycombe player starting a competitive game for the country ranked 30th in the world (in case you missed it, Daryl Horgan played 75 minutes for Ireland in their 1-0 loss away to Finland on Wednesday). But that’s the level we’re at now – and it’s time to show we belong here by getting off the mark in the Fred Onyedinma / Jason McCarthy / Adebayo Akinfenwa / Ryan Allsop derby. The games don’t get any easier – Milwall sit 11th after taking five points from their first four outings – but we will get better; the signs have been there.
Manager: Gary Rowett (appointed October 2019)
Top scorer: Jed Wallace (RW) – 2
Most assists: Mason Bennett (LW), Shaun Hutchinson (CB) – 1
Style of play: Patient build-up, stretch the play, emphasis on right-hand side,
Last time out: L 2-1 v Swansea (A)
Keep an eye on… Jed Wallace
The only player to hit double figures for goals and assists in the Championship last season, Wallace is Millwall’s playmaker and danger man. While he’s a threat operating off either flank, you’d expect him to be kept on the right to get at what has so far been the soft side of our back four. An excellent ball carrier, crosser and free-kick taker, there’s too much to his game to be able to stop him, but we’ll probably want to double up on him to try and keep him quiet-er.
It’s only just begun
(Try not to read that in Noddy Holder’s voice.) If you like to cling to omens for hope in times of bleakness, here’s one for you: this still isn’t our worst ever start to a season; that came in 1998/99, when we lost our first five Division 2 games and didn’t win any of the first thirteen – and stayed up. Clearly a much harder task confronts us this time, but the point is you don’t write any team off this early. You certainly don’t predict that they won’t win a game all season, as one outlet sensationalised recently.
We were our own worst enemy against Rotherham, wasting two golden chances to possibly wrap the game up before half-time; we fell apart completely at Blackburn; and we allowed Swansea to walk all over us in the first half of the game. Since then, though, there has been a discernible improvement – particularly encouraging given the continued absence of midfield anchor Dom Gape and attacking focal point Uche Ikpeazu, among others. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (other clichés are available) and while we need to put that first point – and goal – on the board fast for psychological reasons as much as our survival hopes, we’re not as far off as some would have you think. Besides, it’s a big enough gap to bridge as it is – let alone without several supports.
Another week, another system
For the opposition, that is – possibly for us but probably not. So far, we’ve faced Rotherham’s 4-4-1-1, Blackburn and Luton’s 4-3-3s and Swansea’s 3-4-1-2. Football has arguably never been less formationally homogeneous and Millwall pose another, slightly different challenge with their 3-4-3. We know from recent history that wing-back systems are our Kryptonite (see defeats to Coventry, Sunderland, Peterborough and Swansea in the last ten months), and we have to come up with more effective means of combatting them.
Jason McCarthy did not have a good game against Swansea at left-back – it’s not his position and he lost his man for the opening goal as a result of finding himself wrong-footed – but the thought of Wallace and highly athletic right wing-back Mahlon Romeo up against a still-adjusting Joe Jacobson is slightly terrifying (facing that kind of double threat after only three Championship starts isn’t likely to be conducive to JJ’s easing in, which it looks like he needs). Ideally, we’d have brought another left-back in by now, but it is what it is and, on balance, given his superior athleticism, McCarthy is probably just the best option (but we do still need that second left-back). If everyone’s fully fit, Ainsworth could have a number of personnel decisions to make, but that’s probably the key one.
Could McCarthy even play as a left wing-back in a 3-4-3 of our own? Well, we should know by now to anticipate a curveball from Gareth, but the last time we played three at the back – to give us an extra man against a Peterborough side deploying a front two – we made a right mess of it and reverted to type. Play it well and it can nullify opposition set up the same way, but – despite now having better ball-playing centre-backs in Josh Knight and Ryan Tafazolli – it feels like an excessive risk while we’re still finding our feet. It would also be overkill against a one-striker team in Millwall. A 4-3-3 with, touch wood, Dom Gape back at long last seems likely.
We will like him when he’s angry
“The thing with Fred,” said Adebayo Akinfenwa in the Sky Sports studio before the loss to Swansea, “is you’ve got to make him angry.” It’s been a poor start to the campaign for one of the players we’d have expected to make the step up quite naturally, such is his quality, but if there’s a game that’s going to suitably rile him up and bring out his best, it’s this one. His time at Millwall was not happy on the whole.
Neil Harris – Fred’s last manager at the Den – may be long gone and fans will be absent – probably just as well given their feelings towards him, borne out of allegations that he refused to play at home towards the end of his time there – but he’s still bound to feel he has a point to prove. “It’s somewhere that gave me my opportunity to make my debut and make my career,” he told the South London Press this week, “but I just felt like I wasn’t valued.” There will be no Adebayor-ing in front of the away end, but perhaps he can find a camera to ‘Shh’ and cause a few keyboards to be smashed in the south east London area.
Uche Ikpeazu and Adebayo Akinfenwa could both be fit, but you wouldn’t expect either to start having played barely any football in over six months. Daryl Horgan may not be risked from the start after his international exertions, but here’s hoping the integral Dom Gape – following a three-match ban then a knock – finally makes his first league appearance of the season. Young attacking midfielder Anis Mehmeti has made a serious impact in training and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the 18.
The visitors are without on-loan Tottenham striker Troy Parrott and EastEnders star Billy Mitchell, but Gary Rowett otherwise has a full complement to pick from (striker Kenneth Zohore, a deadline day loan arrival from West Brom, signed too late to be eligible for this one). Shaun Hutchinson was 2019/20’s joint top-scoring Championship defender with six goals.
In the middle: Andy Madley
Select Group 1 since: June 2019
Last game: Kosovo 0-1 Slovenia (Nations League, 11/10/20)
Last refereed Wycombe: Wycombe 3-2 Swindon (League Two, 13/02/18)
This is a meeting of two of the three least creative sides in the Championship. Wycombe have mustered 3.2 xG so far, Millwall 2.6. @chairboystrivia
Header graphic: Dan Clark