Relegation Week: Can Millwall stay clear of the maelstrom?
Millwall are keeping their heads above water at present, but is there a danger they could still be sucked into the whirlpool of relegation to League One? Lions fan Kate Murray speaks to Joe Harrison about her side’s chances of avoiding the dreaded drop.
After an impressive 9th place finish last term in Millwall’s first season back in the second tier, have this year’s struggles come as a surprise?
Call me an ostrich if you will, but answering a set of questions headed ‘Millwall relegation’ still comes as a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t of course, given that we’re currently sitting in 19th spot in the table – with crunch matches against two of those below us to come following last night’s match at Doncaster. But somehow a disappointingly average season has spiralled almost before we knew it into something much, much worse: a relegation fight that few of us were expecting last August. Our impressive showing last season means that expectations were perhaps too high. But the spirit we showed last year has all too often been missing this time around.
How much of an impact has the sale of Steve Morison had on the team’s fortunes?
Morison was always going to be a tough act to follow. Darius Henderson, when he’s fit, has shown himself more than capable of getting the goals. But it’s the lack of a settled strike partnership that I think has really cost us. Josh McQuoid, once hailed as our great new hope, is now out on loan at Burnley; loan strikers Jay Simpson and Patrick Agyemang – least said about his brief stay the better – have been and gone; young prospect John Marquis has now been sidelined and Dany N’Guessan is the latest to go out on loan. So while some weeks we’ve been racking up wins by a three goal margin, in other matches it’s been a struggle to see where the next goal is coming from. The arrival of Andy Keogh and Harry Kane, the latter again on loan, has been positive.
Kenny Jackett has been at the New Den for four and a half years now; is he still the man to take the club forward or is there a worry that things may have gone stale?
I’m not one of those calling for Jackett to go. The majority of Millwall fans I’ve spoken to are still behind KJ – partly of course because there doesn’t look to be anyone out there who could do a better job with the sort of budget we’ve got. He’s done a huge amount for our football club, and he still commands huge respect.
Nonetheless, it has looked as if there are confidence problems in the camp. I don’t think that’s been helped by some of the selection decisions, which have, at times, been baffling. Loan players are brought straight into the team, then dropped. Players seem to fall in and out of favour. Take the goalkeeping situation. David Forde and his deputy Steve Mildenhall (now injured) have both had their share of shaky games. But Forde being brought back into the team, apparently too soon, then subbed mid-match, and now dropped in favour of the newly-arrived veteran loanee from Leeds, Maik Taylor, is an example of the uncertainty that seems to pervade the club right now.
It’s an uncertainty that makes you wonder when you go along to a game which Millwall side will turn up: the one that notched up impressive wins against Burnley, Ipswich or in the Cup against Southampton, or the one which surrendered almost without a whimper at home in the games against Bristol City and Watford. If we do stay up, the manager will have some serious work to do over the summer; building a team rather than the collection of individuals we’ve all too often looked like over the last few months.
One of the main positives from the season so far has been the form of top-scorer Darius Henderson. Are his goals crucial to hopes of survival or are there other equally important players who may not grab the headlines?
Henderson needs to be on song in the run-in, but then so do plenty of others. Midfielder Jimmy Abdou has been an inspiration this season and his commitment could prove crucial. James Henry looks to be back on form and, judging by his reaction to the loss against Southampton at the weekend, ready for the fight. What we do about our full-back problem will be telling.
With the current cushion above the relegation zone, are you confident the team will pick up enough points to avoid the drop?
Some have argued that it’s bad luck – injuries and some poor refereeing displays – that have landed us in the trouble we’re in today. But while there’s no doubt we seem to have had at least our fair share of dodgy decisions this season, I’m not a big fan of the bad luck argument. Time and time again this season we’ve been unable to convert our spells of dominance into goals. Nottingham Forest away, where we ended up losing 3-1 – to the disbelief of the home fans I spoke to afterwards in the pub – was just the latest example.
So it’s been a depressing season. But I’m still confident – just – that the right Millwall side will turn up in enough of our remaining games for us to pick up the points we need to stay up. I hope I haven’t still got my head in the sand.