Will the real Millwall please stand up? I repeat, will the real Millwall please stand up?
In the 1994 classic film, Forrest Gump once said: “life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”.
If Forrest was following the Lions up and down the country over the last few weeks, he’d no doubt change that famous phrase to include the word ‘Millwall’.
Whether its in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy or the bread and butter of League One, Neil Harris’ side have been absurdly inconsistent since a nine match unbeaten run ended at the hands of Fleetwood Town last November.
They haven’t drawn a game since a goalless afternoon at home to Bradford City on October 31 – every match since has seen a ‘W’ or an ‘L’ next to its name; whilst the victories have at times been sublime, the defeats have just about stopped short of being a disaster.
Shortly before Christmas, Gillingham capitalised on a calamitous Millwall performance to take home all three points in a 3-0 victory. On Boxing Day, Walsall passed the ball around at will, as the Lions looked lost in a 1-0 defeat to the table-toppers. They followed that up by thumping Southend United 4-0 on December 28th, before losing in a mud bath at Barnsley to kick-off 2016.
After grinding out a victory at struggling Oldham seven days later, promotion chasing League Two side, Oxford United, comfortably beat Harris’ men in last Thursday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie, before the Lions returned to winning ways with a 3-1 success over Port Vale, complete with emphatic first half performance.
Inconsistency is perhaps to be expected this season, as the dust settles on a disastrous four years in the Championship and with a rookie manager in charge, but it is frustrating for fans – and probably for the players, too – to be unable to put a good run together.
Despite that, Millwall sit in eighth position in the League One table, a point behind Peterborough, who currently occupy the final play-off spot. In previous weeks, I have stated the reasons behind why the Lions do not need to go up this season, but it does make you wonder where we could be if a bit of consistency shone through.
What are the reasons behind the inconsistent form? Without a doubt, one major one is the fact that everyone is still learning and that we are starting from the beginning again, but one flaw that is noticeable sometimes is the style of football that is played.
The return to a 4-4-2 formation has seen the Lions create many more chances and score more goals than the useless regime in charge previously could ever hope to muster (all three main strikers are now in double figures – something that hasn’t happened for over a decade), but at times, the long ball (or ‘hoof ball’) game leaves a lot to be desired.
It is something that can be used, but not as a ‘Plan A’. For example, at Southend and at home to Port Vale last Sunday, the ball was kept down on the floor and the wingers were able to get into the game and dictate the play – as loanee Jed Wallace’s outstanding cross for Lee Gregory’s sublime header proved – and that resulted in convincing victories.
Rewind to the Oxford game last Thursday and when the team wasn’t too busy needlessly losing possession, the ball travelled from the defence to the forwards with one long punt, which was expected to be won by Gregory or Morison every time; unsurprisingly, Oxford wised up to that pretty quickly.
If we’re chasing a game or if it is warranted, then I have no problem with route one football. But, Millwall play their best football when the ball is on the floor and we bring width into the play. Recent results have proved that.
On the subject of Jed Wallace, whilst we won’t have a hope in hell of keeping him past his initial month’s loan, let alone any longer, he is exactly the kind of player that can fill the missing piece of the puzzle this season. Since the decline of Fred Onyedinma’s form, we have lacked someone with pace that can pick the ball up from deep and attack a defence at speed – Wallace possesses that. If we can find someone like that on a permanent basis, then we’re going places.
Here’s hoping that the Lions can find some consistency in weeks to come. Lets say Gump’s box of chocolates were a tin of Quality Street; the wins have been those nice fudge ones in the pink wrapper; the defeats have been the dark chocolate strawberry ones that are always left in the bottom of the tin.
Less strawberry, more fudge, please Millwall.