VFL BOCHUM 0
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
Ready or not, here it comes – another nine months of Championship football.
So are Millwall prepped and good to go as things get serious again? I’d have to say yes.
In an ideal world they would have got all their incoming transfer business done before the visit of Middlesbrough to The Den this coming Saturday.
But if the Lions do tie up a permanent deal for Brighton’s Jiri Skalak in the next couple of day or so, then it only leaves bringing in another striker as the final piece of the jigsaw.
With the farcical changes to the domestic transfer window, it means that EFL clubs essentially have until the end of August to carry on making signings – simply that they have to be loans or temporary deals that can be turned into permanent additions at the start of January.
Skalak has not featured for Brighton in the Premier League but managed 12 assists in 43 Championship appearances in a season and a half. A repeat of that kind of return for the Lions can only make them stronger.
It’s hard to see Millwall not being strong defensively again in 2018-19. The key personnel that made them largely rock solid last time around is still there and Ben Amos and Murray Wallace, both experienced campaigners, have been added.
VfL Bochum certainly mimicked some of the English sides that came to The Den last season when points were at stake – neat and tidy on the ball but unable to truly carve Neil Harris’ organised and hard-working team open.
It was not always totally fluid from Millwall, but there is no doubt that the intensity was a little dialled down.
When it comes to the individual who has impressed most in pre-season, Jed Wallace would be my pick. The winger is always full of industry and is such a lively presence, especially when he floats inside.
His goal on Saturday showed off his excellent movement. He received the ball in a shooting position just over 20 yards from goal but showed shrewd decision making to pop a pass to Steve Morison before dispatching the return ball into the roof of the net via the underside of Felix Dornebusch’s crossbar.
He was unlucky not to add a second towards the end of the friendly as once again a one-two, this time with Aiden O’Brien, opened up a shooting chance on the left of the box but the Bochum keeper was out quickly to make a strong save.
Millwall did not create bundles of opportunities although O’Brien saw an unconvincing connection on a Steve Morison nod down loop onto the crossbar and he produced an air kick when he attempted to latch onto the rebound.
Millwall’s starting line up to face the Bundesliga outfit – brought over as Nadjim Abdou’s testimonial opposition – looked pretty much the one which will take on Boro.
Lee Gregory, absent after his wife went into labour, would be expected to take Fred Onyedinma’s place.
And Abdou only had a five-minute cameo at the start before he was replaced by George Saville, another vital fixture of the Lions’ side in the 2017-18 campaign.
The only question seems to be whether Amos can take the number one slot away from Jordan Archer. But the latter has done nothing wrong in the friendlies and you would expect that to mean he is the one walking out onto the Den pitch at 3pm in four days time.
If there are any slips by the Scottish international, he knows there is a serious replacement just waiting for his own shot between the sticks.
Nothing – even sentiment – comes before six weeks’ of sweat and toil in preparation for Boro. This was Abdou’s last outing in a Millwall shirt after a decade of all-action shifts for the SE16 outfit.
The 34-year-old has joined his hometown French club Martigues and had only the briefest of outings for just over 2,300 home fans to drink in. Abdou had a guard of honour from both sets of players as he made his way onto the pitch with his three children. That trademark smile was clearly on display, as it was at the final whistle when he came back out – tapping his heart as he clapped supporters who simply call him Jimmy.
Those moments were the only times that the home section raised the volume.
Bochum’s 240 travelling fans had a South London singalong from start to finish – including a few English chants – that included: “Where’s your famous atmosphere?”
Come Saturday it will be there alright, you can bet on that.
Whether Millwall can surpass their eighth-place finish in May, is hard to say with any confidence. It was an outstanding first season back in the Championship, especially when it was done on a budget that was small change to some of the clubs they were competing against.
Attempting to outsmart the big guns – both in terms of deals and tactics – will very much be the order of the day again. The Lions only took two points from their opening four fixtures, even if their displays merited more. The South Londoners were one of the division’s form teams from January. If they can start fast this time then it will instantly put them on track to hit objective number one – that 50-point mark which secures safety.
Millwall have under-rated footballers, team spirit, an unstinting work-rate, mean defence and a home atmosphere which unsettles opponents. They won’t make life easy for anyone, at The Den or on the road.
One of the Lions’ favourites may have bid farewell on Saturday. But there are others in Neil Harris’ squad who can also go down as Millwall legends.
Millwall: Archer, McLaughlin (Meredith 63), Hutchinson (M Wallace 64), Cooper, Williams, J Wallace (Onyedinma 77), Thompson, Gregory (Morison 77), Ferguson (O’Brien 68), Romeo (Brown 85), Elliott. Not used: Sandford, Webster, Tunnicliffe, Saville.
IMAGES BY BRIAN TONKS
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