Wednesday night’s game is the clash of two teams who don’t know how to win. While Reading have lost their last four games, mid-table opposition Millwall have drawn their last three and lost the one before that. So who’ll come out on top? We spoke to Lucas Ball, reporter for London Football Scene and News at Den to get the Millwall view on what’ll happen in South London.
How would you sum up Millwall’s season so far?
It’s a much better start than we usually make. We’re notoriously slow starters and are usually stronger in the second half of the season, so if we can be in or around the top 10 come Christmas, it bodes well for us.
Defensively, we’ve kept the same solidity expected after last season’s strength in that area (thank you for Jake Cooper) but still need to add more goals - hopefully Troy Parrott, returning from injury, can be that man.
In pre-season you told us the expectation was to be in the mix for the top six - are you on track for that?
I think we’re lacking a little creativity and currently the goals to get in the top six but if we don’t make it, I don’t think we’ll be too far away. Parrott and Kenneth Zohore have both had injuries since joining, frustratingly, with those two looking our most likely source of goals.
In midfield, we miss someone with the box-to-box energy and creative quality to break down low blocks and teams in general, though I do think Billy Mitchell - another who has struggled with injury - could be a big help with that particular issue.
How do you set up tactically?
Tactically, we either set up in a 5-2-3 or 4-2-3-1 for the most part. I think we’ve used the 5-2-3 in all but two away games since Gary Rowett took over but the 4-2-3-1 has been commonplace at home of late.
We try to build through the lines quickly and have the option of going more direct when Matt Smith starts, but we’ll generally look to build down the flanks and involve switches of play to move the defence around before getting crosses in.
Defensively, we’re quite strong in either the back four or five with the best centre-back pairing in the division and one of the best shot-stoppers between the sticks. We tend to defend relatively narrow meaning the wingers almost drop in as wing backs at times in the 4-2-3-1, perhaps limiting our ability to play on the counter at times.
What are the main strengths of this side?
Probably our biggest strength is for defensive acumen. I think only three teams have conceded less so far this season and we’re very strong both aerially and otherwise in defence. Smith as a striking option means we’ll be relatively strong when going direct if he starts, given he’s probably the best at heading the ball in the division.
And its weaknesses?
Breaking down low blocks is not a strength of ours given our lack of midfield creativity and runners to break through the lines. We need a striker with the ability to play off the shoulder and also fashion some of his own chances to improve at that which hopefully Parrott - and then Zohore - can do.
What have you made of Reading so far?
Like many, I didn’t expect the ridiculous vein of form at the start of the season to continue. You were wildly outperforming your xG stats and the lethal finishing on display wasn’t going to be sustainable.
That said, I think my pre-season prediction of you being in a relegation battle was wrong and that you’ll probably finish in mid-table, with a positive outlook heading into next season if you can make additions in a couple of key areas and tweak one or two things tactically.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
I think you’ll set up and look to hit us on the counter and we’ll struggle to break you down whilst maintaining a degree of defensive control. I can’t see there being many goals at all but I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to nick it, I’ll say 1-0 Millwall - but it could go either way given neither side is in good form.