Millwall are in the driving seat as the Championship Play-Off race reaches the final straight

4 min

The March international break has long been considered the Championship’s start of a hectic run-in that has historically provided so much drama in the promotion race.

This season, Millwall find themselves in somewhat new territory, entering the final furlong inside the Play-Off places instead of flirting around the edges.

The Swansea victory guaranteed the Lions would be at least sixth when international duty began, before a frustrating home defeat to strugglers Huddersfield Town prevented Gary Rowett’s side putting some distance between themselves and the chasing pack.

Missing out on three points after dominating but ultimately failing to break down a stubborn Terriers side, may act as a warning ahead of what will surely be a mad dash to the finish line full of twists, turns, big wins and dropped points.

With eight games to go, sitting sixth in the table three points clear of Norwich City is no mean feat given the club’s limited resources with Gary Rowett’s side thriving off being the underdog.

However, with a number of games to come against league strugglers, the Lions may find themselves having to play top dog more often then they’d like.

Millwall resume their campaign with a pair of potentially seismic fixtures against Play-Off chasers West Brom and fourth-placed Luton Town. 

If they can get through those games remaining in the top six, then, on paper, their run-in looks extremely favourable with the rest of their fixtures, other than a potential final day decider at home to Blackburn Rovers, very much winnable.

In SE16, as the Huddersfield defeat demonstrated, you can never count your chickens before they hatch though as Millwall are prone to struggle under the weight of expectation. 

Under Rowett, it’s no secret Millwall are used to being a counter-attacking side, happy to spoil the party and steadfastly snatch victories against the run of play. 

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In contrast, when the onus is placed on his side, breaking through scrappy, backs-to-the-wall opponents can be something of a Sisyphean task – although they have improved in this department over the past year.

They have started to turn their trademark draws into wins, but at such a crucial stage of the season, they cannot allow old habits to creep back in.

Rowett and his side will need to harness the Huddersfield defeat to avoid a repeat although it is also easy to put the loss down to ‘one of those days’. 

Had a few guilt-edged chances been taken in the opening 45 minutes, it could easily have been a different story with the Lions ending the game with an incredible 71% possession.

That statistics heeds another warning on its own. This season the Lions have only won two of eleven games in which they’ve had more than 50% possession while losing five.

It’s safe to say Millwall prefer to be without the ball and it was clear to see a lack of creativity from midfield against Huddersfield which eventually led to the side running out of ideas in the second-half.

That could be put down to fatigue, stress of the situation, or any number of external factors but nevertheless, cannot be ignored and certainly cannot be repeated too often if Millwall are to make the Play-Offs.

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This season presents the best possible opportunity to achieve a top six finish in Rowett’s tenure and more likely than ever to achieve the endgame of the three-year plan set out by the boss from the moment he arrived at the club.

The Championship is known for positional swings, and it sounds a cliche but Millwall just have to take it one game at a time and, with each game they successfully navigate, it’s one less to play.

Rather than being in that frustrating chasing pack, they are now in the driving seat and in charge of their own fate to finish where they want to be when the chequered flag finally comes down in May.

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