Millwall’s early results offer a reality check for Gary Rowett’s wounded Lions

4 min

With just one win from their opening five league games, the pre-season optimism that surrounded Millwall has quickly been replaced by frustration and fear for what lies ahead.

It may be too soon to hit the panic button, but Gary Rowett’s side desperately need to find some form to prevent the home crowd from turning.

Millwall’s opening draws against Blackburn Rovers and QPR felt all too familiar, largely down to a lack of attacking cutting edge.

Despite the hope Rowett may have addressed this issue with the summer addition of Benik Afobe on loan from Stoke City, Millwall are still struggling to put chances away.

On a personal level, Afobe has started well, scoring two goals in five games already – more goals than some of his fellow strikers netted all last season. 

But while he has looked lively and been a big factor in Millwall’s ability to press higher up the pitch, Afobe is still lacking service which has been the Lions’ main problem for almost 18 months.

READ MORE: Daniel Ballard on promotion with Blackpool, why he joined Millwall and his Arsenal future

Defensive solidity has been a key feature of Rowett’s regime but the 5-3-2 formation that began the season is often too cautious, especially when the midfield three is composed of the defensively minded George Evans and Mikael Kieftenbeld.

Back-to-back losses against Fulham and Cardiff also exposed weaknesses that raised alarm bells with the 2-1 home defeat to the former particularly flattering for Millwall.

That loss could have been counted as a blip as the Cottagers have started the new season strongly and have a squad worth hundreds of millions. 

However, the 3-1 loss to Cardiff just a few days later, in which Millwall were outworked and physically dominated, was unacceptable for many.

The 2-1 home win against Blackpool just before the international break can be seen as papering over the cracks as Millwall laboured to a victory against 10-men, saved by the talismanic Jed Wallace.

Millwall cannot continue to rely on Wallace, who is edging ever closer to the end of his contract with others needing to show they can deliver as well.

While some may see Millwall’s start as a minor disaster, it is in truth a reality check.

The reality, for Millwall, is that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the club hard as they continue to struggle to compete in a Championship flooded with parachute payments and new, gung-ho owners dreaming of the big time.

As the season started, Rowett made it clear his squad needed two, maybe three additions before the transfer window closed with the lack of options on the bench abundantly clear.

However, without moving players on, the club haven’t been able to bring many in as the likes of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Tom Bradshaw and Ben Thompson remain at the club and on the books but not, it seems, in Rowett’s plans.

Now with injuries to Danny McNamara and Shaun Hutchinson, the Lions could be looking at another season with a stretched, aging squad.

They also failed to add a number ten, a creative player to link midfield to attack which they so desperately need.

READ MORE: There’s no excuse for Millwall fans booing at the weekend – and it can’t happen again

The late loan arrival of Liverpool’s Sheyi Ojo before the transfer window shut hints at a change of style, perhaps reverting back to the familiar Millwall 4-4-2, with 32-year-old Matt Smith set to play a starring role.

If that is to be the case, it would be a regression, not the new, forward thinking style that Rowett promised when he walked into The Den back in October 2019.

Overall, the club ends August with a cloud over it – an underwhelming transfer window and start to the season, matched by controversy off the pitch following repeated booing of visiting players taking a knee ahead of games.

As the campaign heads into the cold, harsh winter months, Millwall will be hoping for sunnier days ahead. 

After a tough visit to West Bromwich Albion following the international break, they have a run of matches that could see them hit form and get the fans back onside. 

They will need to use this international break wisely to find a system that works, to iron out the kinks, regroup and go again.

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