This season has been pretty disappointing after last year’s heroics of a ninth place finish after our promotion from League One in 2010.
The manager, Kenny Jackett, has said this season is a transition – changing our style of play to be more ‘modern’ as the boss puts it.
However, languishing in the bottom half of the table and in the midst of a tight relegation battle is what it has been like for much of the season. A lack of creativity in the final third and an air of anxiety in or play has cost us this season, along with the lack of defensive stability that was there the previous season.
Rarely this campaign have we been outclassed, I can count on four occasions where we have been humbled. All teams have games that they aren’t at the races, but the little things have cost us this season. Losing by the odd goal and not killing teams off has been issue.
That has been prevalent this season; however, throughout the campaign small bumps occur that we can’t seem to get over.
Home form has been an issue. In recent years The Den has been a fortress, hard to beat and teams hated to travel to SE16. This season, teams can’t wait. Our away form recently is better, the old cliché that there is less pressure on a team playing away from their own turf. If you don’t win your home games you struggle, that’s fact.
Team selection and tactics have been an issue too. Playing 4-5-1 (4-3-3) at home for me, is absurd. Play 4-4-2, get at teams, attack them at home, this is a must. Jack Smith who by trade is a defender, has been playing the holding role in place of Jimmy Abdou and the injured Tam Mkandawire this season, and having on loan Spurs forward Harry Kane in centre midfield. It has had the fans questioning if Kenny Jackett is losing the plot?
The short answer to that, no. KJ has said this season is a transition and with experimenting to play football the modern way and becoming a solid Championship side, you need to experiment. In hindsight, I can see why he has tried different teams/selections. The layman way of describing it, is that he doesn’t know his best eleven. That may be true, but if there is a tactical or positional issue arising, try and solve it in-house rather than spending unnecessary money on outsourcing the answer.
In the frustration, in the moment after loses and bad performances, fans would feel like it’s time for Jackett to go. I’ve felt that a few times this season. When cooler heads prevailed, I’ve realised sacking Jackett would be suicide. Owners and fans want results, and if they are not coming, the want changed. In the four years Jackett has improved the team’s fortunes. From League One relegation fodder to visiting Wembley in consecutive years, getting to and winning a play-off final; something the club had never previously done.
Another frustration is the defensive side to Millwall this season. Either excellent or shaky, no middle ground to describe the defensive plight. The once impenetrable back-line has been breached far too often this season. Last campaign Millwall had the third best defence in the league, behind promoted QPR and Swansea. The problem in the back four’s inability is hard to fathom, but this needs to be sorted once again if we are to avoid the drop back into the abyss that is League One.
One thing that is becoming clearer to me, that hasn’t been that much of an issue before, is the performances of David Forde. Others have been slating him for a while but I’ve thought it may have been down to a bad day at the office.
However seeing the team struggle, for the first time with Forde in goal, it’s becoming more obvious.
While in previous years we have had solid seasons defensively and Forde hasn’t been tested anywhere near as much as this season, he has dealt with things well when called into question.
This season, I’ve seen him make more mistakes and more frequently. Brighton away; 2-1 up last minute, Kezenga Lua Lua takes a free-kick and Forde spills it to drop two valuable points. Reading at home; 1-0 up a poor punch into the path of Hal Robson-Kanu, and indecisiveness in coming to the ball cost us a second goal. Losing to Reading 2-1 after going a goal up at home is disappointing.
When Millwall are doing well Forde’s cracks are masked, when we aren’t doing so well, I’m afraid, his errors are highlighted more and are becoming more costly as the season goes on. He can’t become a bad goalkeeper overnight; he is a Republic of Ireland international – this could just be an off season. However it’s costing us more and more. With less than fifteen games left, that too needs to be resolved.
The table doesn’t lie, but we have played well and competed valiantly in many games this season, the luck seems to be against us.
As it stands we are six points above the drop zone. The next six fixtures are season defining.
I still remain optimistic that we will survive, just. If survival is achieved then the summer will see a change in many personnel to make sure this doesn’t happen next season. Yet remain fully behind the manager to steer us away from the drop zone.
Millwall have five of the bottom seven to play, and I feel this is to the advantage of the Lions. Away form is picking up and helping us more than current home form, so with five away games to the bottom sides I can see performances and points being of a standard to pull us over the line.
It’s going to be a scrap to the very end of the season with teams like Peterborough and Watford not out of the woods yet, and the introduction of Portsmouth to the relegation dogfight.
If we can perform during the rest of the season the same way we played against Brighton, Barnsley and Burnley – all of which were games away from The Den, we will be fine. If the home form version of Millwall turns up too often like in games against Birmingham, Watford and the first half against Middlesbrough, there will be trouble ahead.
Kenny will save us; the majority of fans have backed him and never turned against him when we were a fixture of the bottom three.
You could call it a rally cry, but it’s anything but. Millwall supporters will back their club, when times get hard, and we are the underdog, the Lions roar. Keep the faith, show support and the team will respond. This is a time for, as Michael Calvin would put it; “Real ‘wall”.
We can stay up, I think we will. But the players need support on the pitch. The fans haven’t turned so far, and the longer it stays that way the better chance we have of staying up.
In Kenny we trust.
Written by Jay Taylor, We Are Going Up’s Millwall blogger
Jay tweets at @jay_taylor18