Millwall v West Bromwich Albion; The Den, Saturday 22nd October 2022, 3pm
Yesterday, local journalists were expecting the club to make an appointment of Steve Bruce’s replacement before this weekend’s game, but that likelihood has receded this morning with reports that the latest name to be linked, that of Jody Morris, did not receive universal support amongst the club’s hierarchy. That means that Richard Beale will take charge of the team for the trip to Bermondsey and will need to look at how to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s poor display against Bristol City.
While there is no doubt of the squad’s fragile confidence, there is also a tactical conundrum that Beale needs to address if he is to get anything from the Den. At Reading last weekend, the selection of TGH in midfield gave that area of the pitch much more dynamism with the youngster far more progressive in his passing. It worked well as Albion were able to “play through the thirds” and, by pressing aggressively, won the ball in the opposition half and put the opposition defence under pressure.
I’m sure the plan was the same against Bristol City, but it was Albion who found themselves under pressure at the back as Nigel Pearson’s team were set up to overload the centre of the pitch and cut out those progressive passes in the centre of the pitch. That meant Albion were forced to attack down the flanks and, as so often been the case this season, without an aerial threat in the centre of the pitch, crosses from the wing were numerous but ineffective as the Robins’ big centre backs gobbled everything up.
In short, once the centre of the pitch was denied to them as an attacking route, the team had no effective plan B. The only times that there was any sort of threat was when either Wallace, Diangana or Cleary got to the by-line inside the box and looked for the cut back, but either there were defenders to block the pull backs, or the finishing was poor.
There are plenty of other reasons why Albion lost the game, but for me that is a key tactical reason why the 3-4-3 falls down and why there needs to be an alternative approach. If we had a player like Dike in the centre forward position, it could work better, but neither BTA nor Grant offer the aerial threat that is needed when crossing from wide positions.
I expect Beale to start with the same formation, and perhaps even the same eleven, but he needs to offer the players another plan if it is clear it isn’t working. Gary Rowatt, who has been linked with the Albion job, has been playing a 4-2-3-1 this season similar to the formation that Steve Bruce favoured for much of the season, so they would have an extra body in midfield if Beale sticks to the 3-4-3. Allowing one of the three centre backs to push forward does counter that to a degree providing the player has the ability to contribute to the attack and has the stamina to get back quickly. Pieters can potentially do that, but I’m not sure that Kelly can, and that leaves the potential threat a little lopsided.
While Beale may opt to keep the same formation, I do think he may change one or two of the personnel. Livermore may need another rest as he looked a little jaded before his withdrawal on Tuesday, while Matt Phillips is another that perhaps ran out of steam and was also substituted. I would, however, hope he would keep TGH in midfield if Phillips does drop out, with Furlong the obvious replacement for the right (wing) back slot. The former QPR man hasn’t played since the defeat to Swansea and I’m sure he will feel he has something to prove particularly with the potential for the new boss to be watching.
The one player that doesn’t fit a 3-4-3 is John Swift. The former Reading man has struggled this season and hasn’t started a match since Bruce switched to 3-4-3 against Luton. While he has been played as a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 late on in games this season, the number ten position is his best, and that doesn’t exist in a 3-4-3.
Former Millwall man, Jed Wallace, will be anxious to impress as he returns to the Den for the first time since his departure in the summer. I’m sure that the home fans’ feelings will be a mix of respect for what he did for them, but also delight in seeing the relative positions of the two clubs now. “Shouldda stayed at a big club!” might be in evidence! He has, in my opinion, been one of Albion’s most consistent performers this season and has apparently proved to be a big character in the dressing room – I’m sure he will be impressing the importance of the game on his teammates!
The Lions are enjoying a good run of form at present having won their last three games, one of which was at the home of Albion’s conquerors from Tuesday, Bristol City. They did, however, struggle in the early part of the season and were 19th in the table at the end of August with just seven points from their opening seven games albeit that did include defeats at Sheffield United, Norwich City and Burnley. Five wins and a draw from their eight games since them has seen them climb the table to 8th, just one point outside the play offs and four points off top spot.
There is no doubt that it will be a tough game for Albion at a venue that they have registered just one victory since Millwall moved there almost three decades ago. It is likely to be Richard Beale’s last in charge of the club, for the time being at least, and having tasted the feeling of victory last weekend, I’m sure he would love another sample before he makes way.
Albion have rarely enjoyed their visits to Bermondsey with just five wins in twenty-two visits to that part of east London. The club may be in the midst of a metaphoric storm at the moment, but their most recent victory came during the real Storm Ciara in February 2020. Not only was the world a very different place just before the COVID pandemic hit, but West Bromwich Albion football club was also very different as they produced a fantastic performance to defeat Gary Rowett’s team thanks to goals from Filip Krovinović and Dara O’Shea.
That is the Baggies’ only victory at the stadium that has been Millwall’s home since 1993, with their previous win at the Lions’ former home coming in April 1987 when Bobby Williamson scored the only goal of the game for Ron Saunders’ Albion team. The Throstles’ biggest win at the old Den came in the last season before the outbreak of World War Two. Goals from Sammy Heaselgrave, Sandy McNab, Ike Clarke and a brace from Harry Jones saw the visitors run out 5-1 winners.
Millwall’s biggest home win over Albion came in Division Two in October 1990 when Teddy Sheringham scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win for the Lions. Colin West scored Albion’s goal while Millwall’s fourth was scored by Alex Rae, the man that was in charge of Reading last weekend with Paul Ince absent through illness. Millwall had been relegated from Division One the previous season and lost to Brighton in the play-offs at the end of that campaign – they haven’t been that close to returning to the top flight since.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
29 Jan 2022 – League Championship
Millwall 2 (Bennett, Afobe)
West Brom 0
9 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Krovinović, O’Shea)
Albion’s Record against Millwall
If you cannot see the tables, click here.