The Thursday Preview: Millwall Vs. Nottingham Forest
Although Paul Lambert richly deserved the Football League Manager of the Season award that we allocated a month or two back, Kenny Jackett was another among those uppermost in our thinking. It was only in April that Millwall’s chances of a second promotion on the trot were extinguished and the New Den boss’s achievement in re-establishing the South Londoners’ rock like imperviousness should not go un-noticed.
Last saturday at Reading, the resilience of the Lions’ hides was immediately apparent. Shorn of their leading marksman, the Norwich-bound Steve Morison, many outside South Bermondsey have written Millwall off this year, but a new striking combination paid off with immediate dividends.
Darius Henderson missed an almighty tranche of 2010-11 through injury but this Northerner who seems to flourish best south of the Watford gap was as musclebound as ever, nodding past a flailing Adam Federici to put Millwall ahead and then observing his partner John Marquis net a maiden 2011-12 goal – confirming the talent that was apparent in a scoring burst late last season. Fellow blogger Stanley likens the Lewisham youngster to Steve Claridge in style but he also reminded me in gait and appearance of another ex-Lion, Jon Goodman.
Of course Millwall are well provided for from the flanks – both Hameur Bouazza (once a £4 million pound man) and James Henry know how to cross a ball, even if the latter needs to tackle back a bit more – still, the luxuries evident in wide areas areas are balanced well by a hulking middle of the park combo – Liam Trotter is a lower league Tom Huddlestone and Malawi’s Tamika Mkandawire has been a revelation since swapping centre half for the holding role, garnering the club’s player of the year award last May.
Of course perennials Paul Robinson and Darren Ward provide a meat and drink centre back pairing exceedingly difficult to get the best of in the air, even if they may be susceptible to the kind of on floor trickery we saw from Mathieu Manset and which is Forest’s Lewis McGugan’s stock in trade. Full backs Alan Dunne and Tony Craig as well as keeper David Forde complete a back five, not to say a full XI, where everyone knows his job – Jackett really is a master of organization. A comfortable win at Plymouth for an effective second string on Tuesday confirms this – new capture Dany N’Guessan netting a debut goal.
So Forest, fresh from two difficult home matches, might be in for an uncomfortable afternoon – was it ever any different down by New Cross?
Well maybe, but I have already gone on record in stating that I think Barnsley will be difficult to beat and an analysis of the talent on offer at the City Ground would suggest writing Forest off on their iffy first 180 minutes is premature.
The centre back pairing of Luke Chambers and Wes Morgan echoes Millwall’s own backline to an extent and there is a continuity there that Steve McLaren has been wise to leave alone. Chris Cohen, a player fans of any other Championship club would love to have, is filling in at left back after a series of loanees (Bertrand, Konchesky, Shorey) have occupied that position in recent seasons, and Lee Camp and Chris Gunter are never far away from divisional ‘best of’ assessments.
It’s in midfield where McLaren, fresh from Enschede and Wolfsburg, has affected most change – a double screen comprising the experienced George Boateng and Jonathan Greening provides Fort Knox levels of security given the already tough walls behind; and a trio play just ahead, with the aforementioned McGugan scampering purposefully at the heart of defences and Paul Anderson and Andy Reid supplying extra ammunition – the former scampering rather more than the latter, natch. In addition to these riches, the more than competent Radosław Majewski and Guy Moussi can be called upon when fit although Wesley Verhoek’s decision not to join the club from ADO Den Haag was a setback.
A counterfeit McGugan in style, David McGoldrick filled the lone striker role in the 0-0 against the Tykes and Forest were always likely to dip into the market for something a little more convincing – and so they have today – with the inappropriately named Matt Derbyshire joining from Olympiacos.The Great Harwood man forged a reputation as a supersub in his early days at Blackburn Rovers but struggled to command a first team berth in Piraeus and also had an underwhelming spell on loan to Birmingham City last season. It will be the hope of Forest fans that he can fill the gap left by the injured Dexter Blackstock.
McLaren has been in introspective mood this week and although form-wise, this looks like a home banker, I think the away side will sneak it 1-0.