Nestling in its West Yorkshire Valley, the Galpharm Stadium, née Alfred McAlpine, is one of the more pleasing of the post-Hillsborough arenas. Huddersfield Town play host to Millwall there on Saturday in the first encounter of their two legged play off and older readers will sigh with nostalgia as the thrice League Champions entertain the South East Londoners. Our likely summer signing for The Two Unfortunates, Chris Matthews, and the inimitable Scarf have provided me with their thoughts ahead of this North v South battle and these are herewith distilled:
As the third placed club, the Lions will feel a sense of Cameroonian entitlement as far as their right to take up a place in the Championship is concerned, but rules are rules and they are back in the maelstrom. The Zampa Roaders share the accolade of best defence in the league (along with Leeds with just 44 goals conceded), have the best home record (won 17, drew 5 and lost just the 1) and have enjoyed a forcible domination against the top 6 with half a dozen wins out of 10. A few weeks ago, they went to Elland Road and played Leeds off the park and they rounded off the regular season last Saturday with a helter skelter win against Swindon.
Kenny Jackett is a manager with plenty of play-off experience, who seems to make the correct decisions in big games and in Steve Morison, the ex-Hornet has unveiled a 22 goal striker, ably assisted by a diverse pool of fellow front men: the seasoned Neil Harris, a man for whom all football fans experience a bursting of goodwill, put Millwall ahead against Leeds at this stage a year ago, although the Lions went on to fall to Scunthorpe at Wembley. Elsewhere, and appropriately, given that Millwall are the local club to Nelson Mandela House, Liam Trotter has been a lynchpin in central midfield: an effective ball-winner who doesn’t always win over the fans, but keeps things ticking over with tidy, if unspectacular, passing. For a team based predominantly on physical strength and work-rate, Danny Schofield, a two-footed wide midfielder, returns to one of his former clubs. Having joined in January from Yeovil, he has won over a sceptical crowd with trickery and goals.
Prior to last weekend’s meaningless 2-1 defeat away to an Exeter side who needed to win to stay up, their opponents had put together an impressive 4-game winning streak. Jordan Rhodes, Theo Robinson and Lee Novak have all done well in their first full seasons at the club and are ably provided by the excellent Gary Roberts and Anthony Pilkington, who are surely two of the best wingers in the division. In midfield, ex-Barnsley man Anthony Kay is a solid ball winner who has come on leaps and bounds this season, developing from squad player to mainstay of the side. Alongside him, Red Devil loanee Danny Drinkwater has shown flashes of brilliant vision, but does tend to occasionally go missing in games.
The back 4 is marshalled by seasoned campaigner Peter Clarke, who currently plays alongside his namesake, the promising but inconsistent youth-team product Tom. Full backs are ex-Liverpool trainee, Lee Peltier, who can best be summed up as the Glen Johnson of the division – great going forward, not so wonderful defensively, as well as Neal Trotman, on loan from Preston. Alex Smithies, the goalkeeper, is rated alongside Joe Lewis as the best young netminder outside the Premiership – and possibly second to Joe Hart in terms of young English goalies nationwide.
As far as weaknesses are concerned, Millwall will miss Player of the Year Alan Dunne, following an excellent campaign at right-back. One of their recent defeats was on this very ground and the Terriers could well have scored in excess of one with more precise finishing. Fifth place in the Fair Play League is an achievement, but in the lower divisions getting stuck in is important, and there is a suspicion that some of the players don’t seem to fancy it too much in that department – that could be costly, especially against some of Millwall’s seasoned old pros. Still, I think Terriers possess the guile to head to South Bermondsey ahead in the tie.