The whole of the Championship was somewhat surprised when Neil Harris decided to step down from the Millwall hotseat after over four and a half years in charge. Harris left the club in 18th position following a run of seven games without a win. Despite this poor run of form which saw four 1-1 draws (Middlesbrough, Hull, Huddersfield and Luton) and three defeats (Fulham, Blackburn and QPR), Millwall sit comfortably above the relegation zone after a strong start to the season which saw them beat both Preston and Sheffield Wednesday at home, while securing a draw at high flying West Brom before knocking them out of the cup only a few days later.
However, since Harris departed the Lions they have beaten both Leeds and Stoke at home, drawn with Cardiff and squandered a two goal lead at Brentford to fall to a 3-2 defeat. New gaffer Gary Rowett has only been in charge for one game (the victory over his former club), so will approach this clash in a similar position to Reading.
Noticeably, Millwall have gained 14 of their 18 points at home this season with only one defeat and dropping just seven points. They are clearly a team who rise to the big occasion (something backed up by their recent cup runs) as almost all of their victories this season have come against teams currently in the top six. On the road though the story is not quite the same. Four draws and three defeats (conceding an average of three a game in those losses) show that Millwall are a team who make their home ground a fortress and take what they can on the road.
With an average of 40% possession so far this campaign, the Lions will most likely be happy to let Reading keep the ball for the majority of the game and will look to pose a threat on the counter and from set pieces, with former Royal Jake Cooper their main aerial threat. Gary Rowett is a manager who has been known to play counter attacking football where, at both Burton and Birmingham, his sides would regain possession and attack the spaces that would naturally open up. This is best shown by Jed Wallace who won, and scored, a penalty against Stoke last weekend after a pacy direct run upfield, while also setting up the first goal.
The Lions lined up in a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) in Rowett’s first game in charge, with Ben Thompson playing off Tom Bradshaw in attack. This was a change from their previous game where Matt Smith partnered Bradshaw up top, the former Barnsley man netting two in their draw with Cardiff. Perhaps this 4-4-1-1, with the ability to drop into a 4-5-1, shows a more solid and counter attacking approach and we can probably expect to see this on Saturday afternoon as Rowett will be looking to implement his philosophy and stick to the same system regardless of opposition. To counter this, the Royals may opt to keep Rinomhota and Richards in the side, two men exuding energy and work rate, while a possession based approach with perhaps more conservative full backs may be required for parts of the game.
A man who has worked well with limited resources, Rowett is looking up the table and has lofty ambitions for this Millwall side. But as Mark Bowen has shown, this Reading side will certainly be up for the battle and should be expecting to take three the points.
Perhaps if this game had taken place a few weeks ago then Millwall would’ve run out 1-0 winners, scoring an early goal and then proceeding to sit back on their lead in the security of knowing that, try as we might, a Reading goal would not come. However, under Bowen we may well be getting a 90-minute-long fight, a victory and a clean sheet.