Eye Witness Assessment: Lomas Wins the Tactical Battle for Millwall
After a cluster of good results in September, Millwall’s season, and their away form in particular, had threatened to derail again under Steve Lomas – horrific 4-0 and 5-2 reverses at Birmingham and Bournemouth indicating that all was still not quite right under the Ulsterman; fans of the South London side primed to start howling again at the first hint of failure, the manager’s tendency to tinker and his links to a mob of Olympic Stadium wannabes still providing good reason for him to be condemned.
But a slightly fortuitous 2-2 draw against QPR, punctuated by a spot of entertaining ‘arry-baiting and a more than deserved point at Reading have steadied the dredger for the time being and if the Lions are far from being the best team of all, their performance on Saturday signalled a determination to be competitive.
The loss of Mark Beevers, a former prodigy rehabilitated under Lomas, has broken up one of the division’s most promising central defensive partnerships but the colossus that is Danny Shittu helped everyone forget the fact at the Mad Stad. Another hard working display from Pavel Pogrebnyak proved insufficient for the backline to be pierced while Adam Le Fondre was anonymous on the day. Yes, the gap that appeared in the ninth minute was as wide as Greenland Dock, and Sean Morrison duly nodded home the easiest header you’ll see, but for the main, the defence remained firm.
Also in fine mettle was left back Scott Malone, a man who has really taken his chance this season and scored a cracking goal against Leeds. Here, he snuffed out the threat of Garath McCleary with ease and it was clear from early in the game that the winger just didn’t fancy his chances against the former Bournemouth full back. Tall and angular, Malone also showed ease in possession and is a useful auxiliary when the team need to defend from set pieces.
On the other side of the defence, an injury to Paul Connolly necessitated the introduction of Jack Smith at right back and although neither of these journeymen could be described as having done anything wrong, it’s an area of the team that looks weaker than elsewhere – indeed, a mazy run by Reading rookie Jordan Obita came from this zone, only for Le Fondre to somehow shin the resultant cross on to the post with the goal gaping.
It’s a mild oddity that Millwall possess two wingers with the same name but even more so that it’s the unusual variant of ‘Martyn’ with a ‘y’. Messrs Waghorn and Woolford have almost become house players here at The Two Unfortunates as it seems their rise to prominence has coincided with the operating period of this blog. Both did well on the day – Waghorn tends to tuck in and work hard, his low centre of gravity helping him to battle tenaciously, while Woolford is more languid and creative – an iffy time of it at Bristol City is behind him now and he is now recalling the creativity of his Scunthorpe days.
But it was in central midfield that the Lions really took the game by the scruff of the neck. Undeterred by the early goal, Lomas stuck to a formation that saw Nicky Bailey, now shorn of his fire-coloured barnet, acting as fulcrum while Liam Trotter and Jimmy Abdou operated ahead of him, the latter detailed to negate the threat of Danny Guthrie, a player reborn this season for the Royals.
It worked a treat although quite why Nigel Adkins waited through a 40 minute period of mild dominance from the visitors either side of half time to do something about it is a mystery. Guthrie and Chris Baird continually ran into brick walls and the situation persisted even after the introduction of Hal Robson-Kanu for Le Fondre. Throughout Reading’s miserable Premier League campaign of 2012-13, the squad was continually undone by the extra man in midfield and somebody has to inform lower league managers that 4-4-2 is surely finished as a system.
At either end of the formation, David Forde looks back to his best after a rocky time of it last year and Scott McDonald worked really hard in the lone striker role, ably assisted by the penetrating bursts of the classy Trotter. That the Australian seems to be doing so well after a tiresomely mediocre spell at Middlesbrough says a lot for Lomas who, given his skill in getting the best out of the likes of Beevers and Malone as well as his tactical victory on the day, should perhaps be afforded with more respect by the Millwall faithful.