The inside track on Millwall: The key areas Middlesbrough will need to be wary of at the Riverside

Middlesbrough are preparing for the visit of Millwall on Saturday afternoon – but what can Jonathan Woodgate’s side expect against the Lions at the Riverside?

Friday, 23rd August 2019, 1:01 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd August 2019, 1:05 pm
Millwall boss Neil Harris will be looking for a reaction following his side's 4-0 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday.
Millwall boss Neil Harris will be looking for a reaction following his side's 4-0 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday.

We caught up with Millwall reporter John Kelly, sports editor Southwark News, to get the inside track on Boro’s next opponents.

1. How are Millwall shaping up after their first four league games?

JK: “Before Wednesday night I would have said very well: solid and a real threat from set-pieces.

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“But then they were blown away by Fulham and I think most people have seen or read the stats from that game where the Cottagers posted record possession and passing stats in the Championship.

“Jiri Skalak went off injured which means Millwall will be without two wingers in a small squad for the trip with Jed Wallace – who scored at the Riverside last season – suspended.

“Still, they’ve had a difficult opening run of fixtures and would have taken seven points from 12.

“Neil Harris said he wouldn’t judge the players on the performance at Craven Cottage. Fulham were just several classes above and if they don’t go up automatically then it will be a failure with that squad.

“So Millwall will pick themselves up and believe they can get something this weekend.”

2. Who are Millwall's key players and who will Boro need to look out for?

JK: “I mentioned set-pieces. Matt Smith and Jake Cooper are the two that Boro will need to closely watch. Connor Mahoney has shown his quality from dead balls.

“Harris has changed his side for away games, with Tom Bradshaw starting over Smith. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith and Bradshaw start. The latter is clinical when he gets a chance in the box.”

3. What system are Millwall likely to play?

JK: “They’ve played 4-4-1-1 away, with Ben Thompson off Smith up front. I think with Wallace out they’ll need extra attacking threat, so they could start with a 4-4-2, which has been Harris’ favoured formation for most of his time in charge.”

4. How are the Millwall fans feeling ahead of the trip to the Riverside?

JK: “The reaction to the Fulham defeat was mixed. Some felt it was a tactical failure, some recognised Fulham are a quality side who will so that to plenty of teams at Craven Cottage.

“The hard core who travel to the away games are mostly realists. They know that in the majority of games in the Championship their side are underdogs.

“But they’ll also see Middlesbrough as a side they can get something from. Millwall played really well there last season and it was only a clumsy foul in injury-time by Steve Morison that denied them the win.

“Lions fans will feel their side can sneak the three points.”

5. What would represent a good season for Millwall?

JK: “Staying up but without the relegation threat that hung over them for most of last season.

“Harris made a lot of changes to his squad over the summer but it’s still one of the smallest budgets in the league. To put it into context: Boro spent around £8million on George Saville, who hasn’t been a regular; Millwall’s record signing is £1.5million on Ryan Leonard (who was Saville’s replacement).

“Last season was a real struggle and there were problems off the pitch. It’s far more positive so far this campaign. I’d say somewhere around 15th would be decent.”

6. Finally, how do you think the game will go and what's your score prediction?

JK: “Millwall will likely sit back, absorb pressure, then try to hit Boro on the break and gets corners and free-kicks and the big men in the box.

“I can see it being close and I’m going for the same score as last season: 1-1.”