Millwall’s struggles in front of goal have been a persistent problem over the last 18 months with the side currently ranked 16th for goals scored this campaign – the lowest tally in the top half of the Championship.
If the Lions are to mount a serious Play-Off push in the remainder of the season then in-form Isaac Olaofe could be the answer for Gary Rowett’s goal-shy side should he be recalled from his Sutton United loan.
The 22-year-old was a key part of Sutton’s National League success last season, scoring 14 times in 37 games as the Us claimed a first-ever promotion to the Football League.
Olaofe’s performances suggested the exciting prospect was on the cusp of breaking into Millwall’s first team for the 2021/22 season, before picking up an injury on the third day of pre-season to deny him a chance to prove himself.
Instead, he rejoined Sutton on loan as they embarked on their inaugural League Two campaign and has picked up where he left off, scoring five in his 15 games so far.
The youngster is demonstrating a poachers instinct as well as an incredible work rate with his goals against Tranmere and Leyton Orient resulting from relentless pressing that will surely have caught the eye of Rowett.
Meanwhile, back in SE16, fans have started to see a front two pairing of Tom Bradshaw and Benik Afobe dovetailing and linking up to great effect.
The duo appear to be Millwall’s only options though, with Matt Smith finding playing time increasingly harder to come by, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson unlikely to make an appearance anytime soon and Mason Bennett seeing injury troubles creep back in this season.
Should Rowett persist with a strike partnership, then he will need greater depth up top with Olaofe potentially offering something different.
He looks the ideal replacement for Afobe, offering a similar dogged work rate, the ability to get in behind and a natural instinct in front of goal.
However, Rowett has hinted he is reluctant to recall any of his on-loan youngsters, telling London Football Scene: “We’re open-minded about it but the main thing is they are developing and they are getting regular game-time.
“Unless you can guarantee them that there’s no point bringing them back from a successful loan when they can carry on scoring goals like Isaac (Olaofe) has.”
Although it makes sense to prioritse game time, allowing youngsters to develop and gain confidence ahead of joining the first team, in Olaofe’s case, recalling him early might be a smart move.
As it stands, all of Millwall’s current attacking options are out of contract at the end of this season and it is unclear who will be up top at the start of the following season.
Afobe will return to Stoke at the end of his season-long loan deal, Smith is likely to be released while Bradshaw’s recent form may see him earn a new contract, but he has still struggled to deliver consistently for the Lions.
In recent years, Millwall have struggled to manage their young players and integrate them into first team action but by bringing Olaofe back in January could give him time to ease into Championship life and the opportunity to learn from experienced strikers around him.
Olaofe isn’t the only youngster who could break into the first team with Alex Mitchell (Leyton Orient), Tyler Burey (Hartlepool) and Hayden Muller (St Johnstone) all impressing out on loan.
“The aim of all of those loans is they are going to come back into our team at some point,” Rowett added.
“If you look at those players, along with Billy Mitchell and Danny McNamara, then you’ve got a real core of five or six players that could play for our first team in the next 12 months.’
Given the increased financial pressures brought about by the pandemic, it’s crucial Millwall start to successfully bring further prospects into the side as they have done with Mitchell and McNamara over the last year or so.
It may be too soon for some, but rather than looking outwards for January reinforcements, Olaofe has the potential to make an instant impact at The Den.
Special thanks to Paul Loughlin for supplying the image of Isaac Olaofe playing for Sutton United and Brian Tonks for providing the images at Millwall.