North End are back at Deepdale on Wednesday night after a very successful week on the road, with back to back wins at QPR and Huddersfield. That made it 3 away wins in a row, and 10 points from 4 away games, making us the best away side in the Championship so far.
However, North End are pointless, and winless at Deepdale so far. We have come up against 3 very stubborn sides in Swansea, Stoke and Cardiff, whose collective away form reads P10, L0, GA 2. Very hard sides to break down.
Gary Rowett’s Millwall are next up, and they’re another strong Championship side who will make it tough for us. They’ve travelled well so far, with 6 points from their 3 away games – although their wins have been at Wycombe and Rotherham, who I believe are two of the weaker sides in the division.
Their sole loss came at Swansea, and they have also failed to beat Brentford, Stoke and Barnsley in other games. So, they’ve been solid overall, but not spectacular.
Milwall sit 6th in the Championship after 7 games, however, they are only 2 points above North End, so a win for Alex Neil’s men will see us leapfrog the London club. I’m a strong believer that league position doesn’t matter at this stage of the season, however, as there are plenty of teams in false positions.
For example, Millwall currently sit 6th, but according to @experimental361’s expected goals table, their position is around 13th. So, they have slightly overperformed and have also played the league’s whipping boys in Wycombe.
Interestingly, Gary Rowett won’t be at Deepdale, as he tested positive for Coronavirus shortly before Millwall’s draw with Barnsley. He won’t be able to take training, won’t travel with the side and won’t be barking orders from the touchline – whether that gives PNE any kind of advantage remains to be seen.
The ex-Birmingham and Derby manager has been in charge for around 1 year now, and he has progressed Millwall tactically and has brought in some good players. He has improved Millwall’s attacking threat with more dangerous attacking patterns, and they are less reliant on set-piece goals now, scoring only 1 so far this season.
Millwall will probably set up in a 3-4-3, although they have set up in a 4-4-1-1 on occasions. When they came to Deepdale in early 2020, they set up with a back 3 and managed to frustrate North End, coming away with a 0-1 win.
I expect something similar on Wednesday night, with ‘Wall looking to catch North End on the break with wingbacks Mahlon Romeo and Scott Malone providing attacking width, and with the dynamism of Jed Wallace, Connor Mahoney and perhaps Kenneth Zohore, who is a powerhouse. They will compact into a 5-4-1 defensively and will try and frustrate North End, as Swansea and Stoke did earlier in the season.
Jed Wallace is a very big player for Milwall. One of the only Championship players to do the “double-double” last season (double figures for both goals and assists), and he has started this season brightly, too.
Wallace has scored 3 goals so far, registering 18 shots, which is 8th highest in the league. He has attempted 56 crosses too, which puts him 2nd in the league, behind Xavi Quintilla of Norwich. So, in Wallace, Millwall have a player who has a very high output in the final third. He will shoot and he will cross at will, so PNE need to keep him under control.
He also loves a long shot, so that is something for Rudd to consider, especially if we see a repeat of the weather conditions that we saw at the weekend.
Wallace aside, Millwall have some other threats. Connor Mahoney, a left-footed winger who is playing more central this season, also has high shot volume and has a very good quality left foot. If he gets into pockets of space around the box, he is likely to get shots off, too.
Another obvious danger of Millwall’s is their aerial threat – Jake Cooper 6ft 7, Alex Pearce 6ft 2, Murray Wallace 6ft 3, Shaun Hutchinson 6ft, Matt Smith 6ft 5, and Kenneth Zohore 6ft 2.
They will pose a big threat both from set-pieces and in open play, and height is something that North End have tended to struggle with in recent times. With the quality and volume of delivery from wide areas, with the likes of Mahoney, Wallace, Romeo and Malone, North End need to defend the box well in order to get anything from the game.
It’s been a solid if unspectacular start to the season for Millwall. The Lions have started quicker than they usually do and sit 7th early on, having been notoriously slow starters. That change could be key come the end of the season given we usually have a lot of ground to make up in the second half of the season and slow starts have been our downfall in our last two play-off chases.
We’ve shown real glimpses of just how good we can be but haven’t necessarily produced that quality in long enough spells necessarily.
Seven out of nine points since the international break has seen us rise though a poor tactical decision – in my opinion – to return to a 5-2-3 and the squandering of a number of good chances meant that we didn’t take all nine points as we arguably deserved to.
Since we last faced Preston, we’ve added some real quality in areas where we needed it and other members of our squad have come on even more under Gary Rowett.
On a cold Wednesday night though, I’m not expecting an especially high quality game – particularly given the distinct lack of classics between the two sides in years gone by.
I think Preston, much like ourselves, are another one of those clubs with a real shot at the top six after a couple of close calls in recent seasons given how open the Championship is this season, but it’s anyone’s guess as to which team will actually end up where.
If anyone can successfully predict the top six come May now, I tip my hat to them.
Looking at Wednesday’s game in more depth, I expect us to set up in the 5-2-3 again, with perhaps Matt Smith as the focal point to give us an outlet given we’ll likely see a smaller share of possession and will have to make good use of any counter-attacking opportunities.
Gary Rowett not being in attendance will again prove a hindrance but the players need to cope with that and still put in a good performance. Realistically, we have to win at a few play-off rivals’ home grounds this season and what better place to start than Deepdale.
I’ll go for a 1-0 away win, with a solid defensive performance backed up by a set piece goal from one of the big lads – just like in this fixture in February.
Predicted XI: Bialkowski; Romeo, Hutchinson, Pearce, Cooper, Malone; Leonard, Woods; J. Wallace, Smith, Bennett.
From PNE’s point of view, there has been a lot said about our home struggles. It’s important to look at the quality of opposition faced, and the lack of personnel available so far (DJ, Fisher and Riis haven’t started at home). I expect all 3 to start, with maybe Barkhuizen or Maguire also coming into the fold as well. We have the ability to score goals, as seen with the away form, so I’m not too concerned.
Neil might be reluctant to change a winning team, but with this being the 4th game in 11 days, I think he will have to freshen it up slightly, and I think we will break the duck at home on Wednesday night. My prediction for the night is a 3-1 home win.
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