BY DANIEL MARSH
It’s not often that a Millwall team has been heading for Easter without playing in the past few years – be it in terms of the struggle for survival or the late jump into the top six.
That could change this year, however, as Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers shattered any faint hopes for the championship play-offs.
Millwall is still on track to take its third top 10 finish in the past four years – a return not to be sneezed at since their 2017 second division return, as if they could a few weeks ago after an extensive run sleepwalking from bad shape into a relegation battle.
But if they want to try to get even better and have ambitions to join the promotion party next year, Millwall’s creative flaws need to be addressed in the summer.
Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers wasn’t the first time the Lions have been toothless on their own patch this season – they’ve gone seven times this season in SE16.
Millwall’s Strikeforce is a dilemma that has been under scrutiny this year and is likely to get even more attention this summer. If we’re brutally honest, the club is unlikely to go into the 2021-22 season with the same attacking list.
Matt Smith and Kenneth Zohore are both in the final months of their Millwall deals. It is unfortunate that the latter’s loan period has been marred by injury as he has shown an insight into his skills. However, it is unclear whether either party would welcome an extension next year or not.
Smith’s 13 league goals last season is the best of any player since Millwall’s return to the 2017-18 championship. But he doesn’t seem to be up to the tactical demands of Gary Rowett’s team at the moment.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson may be a better fit for the team than other options currently available, but it’s hard to justify picking someone with such a bad goal record – he has only scored five goals in 62 league games. Despite having another year on his contract, Bodvarsson is not the answer if the club are looking to advance.
Tom Bradshaw will be at the club next year but has also fought in front of goal. At least in the past he has shown that he can find the net at this level.
Mason Bennett has shown a lot lately and his future looks like it could be in a central attacking role, but it’s still an area that the club will certainly need to reinforce with reinforcements for the next season.
However, it would certainly not be fair to attribute all of Millwall’s scorer problems to its attackers – sometimes the quality of the service they are getting has to be questioned.
Bradley Dack was a threat to the guests all afternoon – the former Gillingham man continued his successful run against the Lions by scoring his fourth goal in seven career league games against Millwall. How the Lions could do it if someone of his caliber ran the show for them in the middle of the park.
Ryan Leonard competed this year and Rowett hopes Billy Mitchell’s injury problems are behind him. Maikel Kieftenbeld looks like a solid addition and George Evans would certainly improve the Lions midfield if he can be spared the defense in the future. But Millwall is still missing a player who can create something out of nowhere from the heart of midfield – a maestro who can bring some power to a team that so often seems static in terms of creativity in key areas. A dack-shaped player would be the ideal solution – admittedly, finding someone who can have that influence is easier said than done.
It took more than an hour for Lions to register a shot on goal on Saturday. Scott Malone has become Millwall’s main offensive threat in the past few weeks but his tame free kick would never overtake Thomas Kaminski from the corner. And by then the damage was done.
Usually Millwall can at least fall back on their defensive solidity when fighting in front of goal, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case at the weekend.
As frustrating as Dack’s false start was, the way Blackburn’s second goal came about summed up Millwall’s day pretty well.
Some questionable decisions at the back resulted in the ball bouncing back into Sam Gallagher’s chest from a jerking Jake Cooper, to tumble past Bart Bialkowski in an almost apologetic way. It was a pretty disastrous destination to add to a disappointing afternoon.
There is no doubt that the Lions staff shortage is taking its toll – the majority of the names currently missing due to injuries are likely to be starters. Any team in any league would fight without three or four of their first-choice players.
Blackburn reached Bermondsey in terrible form. You didn’t run over the Lions, but it wasn’t exactly hard work either. It might be a bit of a cliché to say Millwall “didn’t really get off the ground”, but it’s probably the best way to sum up Saturday’s game – sadly, that has happened more than once this season.
The absence of fans definitely took its toll – Saturday was a year in which the Lions worshipers showed up to watch their team beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the City Ground. Probably the biggest plus from Saturday was that it’s another game closer to having them back in den to try and move on next season.
Billy Mitchell. Probably the best of a fairly uninspired bunch during his lesson on the square.
Scott Malone’s most recent attempt to strike, ricocheting off a post in the closing stages.