With eight games left to play and 10 points adrift of the Championship Play-Off places, it looks increasingly unlikely Millwall will be in the promotion shake-up at the end of the season.
Although a top six finish would have been Gary Rowett’s primary objective at the start of the campaign, the fact the Lions are on course for back-to-back top 10 finishes for the first time since 2005 is still no mean feat.
Since his appointment in October 2019, Rowett has slowly lifted the south Londoners from relegation dogfighters to credible Play-Off contenders – all amidst a turbulent backdrop of a global pandemic.
However, although chance creation has improved this season, ranking 11th for shots from open play per game compared to 21st last term, Millwall have still let themselves down with poor finishing, as well as scoring less goals from set-plays (third last season compared to 13th this).
The summer recruitment of Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore on loan have both failed to deliver – Spurs loanee Parrott recalled in January after failing to notch a single goal whilst West Brom’s Zohore has seen his time in SE16 hampered by injuries.
Millwall’s low goal tally also comes as a result of a number of players under-performing their xG totals, perhaps worsened by fatigue and injuries hindering the ability of certain players to put a run of matches together.
With a shorter pre-season and more mid-week games due to coronavirus, injuries were always going to be a key factor this campaign and Millwall’s small squad, pulled together on one of the lowest budgets in the division, cannot counteract that.
Frustratingly, these injuries have also tended to come in groups which means Rowett hasn’t had a fully fit squad to choose from all season, nor is he likely to before the end of the campaign.
Matt Smith is the latest addition to an injury list currently including Zohore, Maikel Kieftenbeld, player of the season contender Ryan Leonard and, until his recent return against Derby, Murray Wallace.
Connor Mahoney’s long-term injury also increased Millwall’s reliance on wide-man Jed Wallace, who has at times struggled with the pressure and intensity of a condensed season.
Whilst other teams have been able to rotate, the Lions’ options have all too often been largely depleted – with Rowett knowing some squad players aren’t at the level Millwall are aspiring to be at and therefore not worthy of starts.
The recent second-half capitulation at QPR is symptomatic of how the same set of players just can’t continue to charge on as the West Londoners came from 2-0 down at half-time to win 3-2.
Millwall had been brilliant in the opening 45 minute with their pressing intensity and attacking intent before dropping off in the second period, making a number of poor decisions as the side gave way to tired legs and minds.
Overall, Millwall’s adaptability has shone through when they’ve opted for variants of the 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 5-2-3 and 5-3-2 formations, all of which have been deployed to good effect at times and, with more quality in certain areas, could easily turn a number of their league-high draws into wins.
Adding more depth and quality to the squad to give Rowett more options when players are missing or out of form will be crucial this summer if the club are to be considered genuine promotion contenders in the next season or so.
With the likes of Jed Wallace, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, George Evans and Mason Bennett heading into their prime alongside the emerging talents of Danny McNamara and Billy Mitchell, Rowett has a strong nucleus of a side heading into their prime.
And if the summer recruitment is right, there is no reason whatsoever why this core group of players – with Rowett at the helm – can’t be a part of something special in 2021/22.