By the time Saturday rolls around and PNE head down to the capital to face Millwall, it will have been a full week since the 0-0 home draw with Forest. A rare(ish) blessing in the Championship that the boys’ legs will be thankful for!
The first half of February has felt rather hectic. What with the club not having a full week’s rest between any of the last 3 matches, added to the furore and excitement that comes with a massive upturn in form, a fan could be forgiven for thinking there’s barely been time to stop, think and fully appreciate the work done on and off the pitch to turn the side’s fortunes around.
Still, North End’s recent impressive form threatened to be hitting a snag due to physical and mental fatigue brought on by the recent schedule. Warning signs of which were visible in the Deepdale stalemate with Forest. These warning signs showing particularly during the second half after the change in formation to a diamond midfield, with two strikers in Stockley and Maguire. Alex Neil will be grateful for the full week’s respite in preparation for the trip to The Den, with the players able to get some much-needed energy back in their legs.
Millwall currently occupy 19th place in the Championship, just two places clear of the drop-zone. They do still have a game in hand over all the clubs below, however, giving them a chance to move further clear after their impressive win at Frank Lampard’s Derby County in midweek.
Managed by club legend Neil Harris, with 324 appearances and 138 goals to his name as a player, The Lions spent last weekend reaching the quarter finals of the F.A. Cup. Surprisingly familiar territory for Harris, as his side also reached that stage in 2016/17 before being knocked out away at Tottenham Hotspur. This year they face Brighton at The Den and could well have one eye on the tie going into Saturday’s fixture.
The Lilywhites made it seven unbeaten with the home draw to Nottingham Forest but continued the increasing amount of ties at Deepdale. This, a trend that has reared its head on a couple of occasions in recent years and arguably cost us a play-off berth last season, with the 0-0 home tie with Millwall a prime example. Look away now Josh Harrop, who trod on the ball 3 yards from goal and stumbled, allowing Millwall to clear what should Harrop have made any other connection with the ball, would surely have been a winning goal.
With this in mind, the Millwall fixture being away from home could be positive. North End loving to turn up, spoil a home team’s day and leave with three points, particularly in recent weeks with the wins at Bolton, Stoke and QPR standing out as superb results. Alan Browne has been notably outstanding (even by his own lofty standards) in recent weeks, and it will be fascinating to see just how long he can keep up his current run of scintillating form.
Millwall aren’t exactly pushovers at The Den. It is of course a famously a tricky ground to visit. On home turf, Millwall have only recorded one more loss this campaign, with a total of four home turnovers, than North End’s three. This could easily be the home form of a fairly solid mid-table side. But, just the two away wins and ten defeats leave the Lions struggling in 19th (although one of those wins was Wednesday night’s impressive 0-1 victory at Pride Park.) The majority of the damage to Millwall’s league position has been dealt out by their woeful away form.
Millwall pose a definite threat, however, which North End should be wary of; their propensity for set pieces. They are the Championship’s second highest scorers from set pieces with 14 goals, bettered only by Aston Villa’s 20, accounting for almost half the goals scored by Harris’ side in the league all season.
Jake Cooper’s goal at Deepdale in December, for example, was the result of one of Millwall’s notorious set pieces. The 6’5 defender took advantage of some poor defending from Paul Huntington to notch one of his impressive 6 goals this season in all competitions. On top of his goal threat, Cooper also has 6 assists to his name and should be considered a key threat by Jordan Storey and Ben Davies when it comes to trying to defend against Millwall’s set plays.
This threat will be supplemented by the in-form Jed Wallace, who added to his winning goal in the F.A. Cup on Saturday with another in midweek. This combination of threats should be enough to keep North End’s backline on their toes.
One of Millwall’s ten away defeats thus far this campaign came at the hands of North End who recorded a 3-2 victory at Deepdale. Goals from Alan Browne, Tom Barkhuizen and Andrew Hughes helped us over the line. There were courageous attempts at a fightback from The Lions on that cold December afternoon. Cooper and Lee Gregory both notched to reduce the arrears to 2-1 and 3-2 respectively. The Lilywhites got very close to having to cling on towards the end, but Lee Gregory’s 93rd minute goal probably came too late to put the result into any real doubt.
Season So Far
A reality check, to sum things up. Whilst no one expected another play-off push, it’s been disappointing in that we have let ourselves down in a number of performances. The way that we’ve conceded goals late on has been a consistent issue, though less so of late. With Steve Morison dropping to more of a bench role, it seems that we’ve lacked on-pitch leadership at times.
We’re getting back to our best defensively but have threatened very little in recent weeks going forward.
As mentioned above, Steve Morison dropping down to the bench hasn’t helped whilst Tim Cahill’s presence in the changing room at the back end of last season was huge.
George Saville has been a huge miss and, as much as I like Ryan Leonard, they are different players and Saville’s energy suited us better. Shaun Hutchinson also hadn’t hit the form that won him the Player of the Season award last year until recently either.
Predicted line-up: Archer; Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, M. Wallace; Leonard, Williams; Ferguson, J. Wallace, Marshall; Gregory
I expect it will be another unchanged starting XI from Alex Neil, given the full week’s respite. With no new injury worries to contend with and the change of formation in the second half against Forest having borne no fruit, I think Neil will stick to the squad and shape that has brought so much success on the road in recent weeks.
We face a relatively in-form side, with Millwall having recently secured their place in the F.A. Cup quarter finals and beating high flying Derby in their own back yard. They haven’t been scoring a great deal, but what they may have lacked in creativity they’ve more than made up for in staunch defending.
However, despite Millwall’s impressive win at Derby, the extra midweek fixture for The Lions could well turn out to be beneficial for us when we travel down on Saturday.
In terms of the score, after Paul Huntington who was at fault for both Millwall goals at Deepdale in December has seemingly lost his place to Jordan Storey for the foreseeable future. I therefore expect North End to be a little more sound defensively from set plays and unlikely to concede any sloppy goals. This might mean Millwall will have to be at their best and most creative to put past Rudd this weekend. If PNE can replicate our superb goalscoring form (particularly on the road) of recent weeks I’m tempted to predict a win for the Lilywhites, 0-2 or 1-3.
What do you guys think, can we make it 8 unbeaten, can we achieve a 4th away win on the bounce? If you want to have your say, get in touch with @fromthefinney on Twitter! We’d love to hear your thoughts.