"The thought of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in the away dugout has now turned into a penny wish dropped down a well, with only the dull thud of it hitting the water below being the only realistic outcome at the moment."
So, we have five games to go in what has been a pretty successful season for Millwall Football Club. Aside from a few spells here and there over the years where we seem to have somewhat of a purple patch, we always tend to be a reasonably good Championship team that occasionally hears the creaking of the relegation trap door, or when things don't go to plan and we slip down a division, we then go on to be a strong promotion candidate when in the third tier of the English football pyramid. But, I don't have to regurgitate information you already know, reader.
Since the appointment of Gary Rowett, whether you like the man and his tactics or not, we have never been under any real threat of relegation. Comfortable top half finishes, with the occasional flirt with the top six, has seen Millwall become a firm staple in the Championship table, even if the football has been a bit bland and uneasy on the eye at times. Rowett's style doesn't produce the most flowing and stylish football you will ever see and even his substitutions are questioned by all four corners of The Den at times, but we can't deny he gets results and we are now at a situation where we look more like getting something from a game then we ever did under Neil Harris and his predecessors. That is, reader, until now...
For the first time since Rowett took over in late 2019, fans went into this season thinking we may have a good chance of cracking into the Championship top six. Looking at the fixtures in pre-season, there were no 'huge' teams who were nailed on for promotion, no-one looked invincible and the teams who came down from the Premier League were not the sleeping giants of the game who would go up at the first attempt. With hindsight being a wonderful thing, Burnley have gone on to prove this hypothesis wrong and have been promoted at the first attempt, but the usual big names who you would expect to be at the top of the table have not been consistently firing on all cylinders. This could be the season that Millwall grab the bull by the horns, show some initiative and get into the play-off places, and it was all going so well until these last few games.
Some stellar loan signings like Charlie Cresswell, Jamie Shackleton and Callum Styles along with permanent deals for George Honeyman, Zian Flemming and Andreas Voglsammer showed not only that we were looking to take the next step and challenge, but also that the club were investing in Rowett's vision, and for long periods of the season, it was all going to plan. Flemming's ability had us gasping in our seats and was scoring for fun, Cresswell had settled in nicely into the back four after a shaky start, Billy Mitchell was maturing into the consistent and reliable centre midfielder that we all knew he could be and Tom Bradshaw was enjoying arguably his most prolific season since joining the club. The Lions were settled nicely in the top six of the table, and some Millwall fans were whispering and getting excited about Premier League football at The Den. All we had to do in our most recent fixtures was get two wins against two teams in the bottom half of the table and then get positive results against other promotion candidates. Then we would pretty much have the knock-out stages sewn up... right?
Well, I don't need to tell you how these games went, but Millwall losing to Huddersfield and Hull City, and goalless draws against West Bromwich Albion and Luton Town were not what the doctor ordered and now the clear blue water that was between us and those in 7th or 8th is now nothing more than a puddle that's been sitting lifeless since a downpour the night before. The positivity at The Den and the thought of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in the away dugout has now turned into a penny wish dropped down a well, with only the dull thud of it hitting the water below being the only realistic outcome at the moment. Reading Gary Rowett's recent interview with New At Den had the publication tweeting out that the Millwall manager was "urging for calm", but if that's the case, it reminds me of Lance Corporal Jones running around screaming telling everyone not to panic. Listening to the most recent Achtung! Millwall podcast after the Hull City game, an excellent point was made that we need to remember that we actually need to win the play-offs, and making the top six doesn't mean that we are in the elite of English football. This is now some of the thoughts that are starting to seep into the mindset of some on social media, that the positivity and practically nailed-on promotion is now being questioned.
The concern for me isn't really the losing of games, that happens in football and there are blips, but for me it's the fact we haven't scored and in some of the games, we haven't looked like scoring at all. We're in a bit of a slump, and yes it's in our hands still to turn it around and secure those places we deserve after such a strong season which has shown real togetherness. A while back, fans were saying that no-one would want to play us in the play-offs as we were playing that well, let's just hope we re-discover that form and the early bird prices of next year's season tickets prove to be the greatest bargain we as fans have ever spent.
Come on you Lions.