12:30, Sunday 6th May, The Den
Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa make the journey down to South London for the final game of the season, as the Lions welcome the Villains to The Den.
Up until recently, this was the game that could’ve cemented Millwall’s place in the play-offs. However, after defeats in the last two games, which also involved conceding five goals, the Lions need a mathematical miracle that only Carol Vorderman and Rachel Riley can solve to get in the top six.
Due to the Villain’s being a staple in the Premier League for so many years, Millwall have only faced the Midlands side three times in all competitions since 1990. These include a 0-0 draw earlier this season in the league, a 2-1 victory to the Lions in the FA Cup in 2013 and a 2-0 victory for Villa in the League Cup nearly 30 years ago. On those stats, it is tricky to say whether one side has an advantage over the other and anything can happen now the pressure is off both sides.
LAST TIME OUT
Middlesbrough 2-0 MILLWALL: This was one game too many for Neil Harris’ men, as a dominant performance from ‘Boro ended the Lion’s play-off hopes. Britt Assombalonga’s first half goal took the wind out of Millwall’s sails, and an easy tap-in from Jonny Howson after a defensive mistake in the 66th minute secured the three points and Tony Pulis’ side a top-six finish.
ASTON VILLA 1-1 Derby County: Steve Bruce’s men had to come from behind to rescue a point in the 84th minute, ensuring that Derby’s battle for the final Championship places goes to the last day. Villa are already guaranteed a play-off place, and cannot break into the automatic promotion places, but defeat would’ve been harsh on the Villains who were more dominant on the ball but just couldn’t take their chances.
Injuries dictate the Lions’ changes, with Aiden O’Brien, Conor McLaughlin and Ryan Tunnicliffe coming in for Ben Marshall, Mahlon Romeo and George Saville. There are many questions to Millwall’s goalkeeping position at the moment, and with nothing left to play for we may see Jordan Archer relegated to the bench.
Aston Villa (4-1-4-1):
Steve Bruce will field a strong side for the Sunday afternoon fixture, but may rest the likes of Alan Hutton with the play-offs just around the corner. Jack Grealish and Robert Snodgrass pose big threats for Villa, but Lewis Grabban is the main man for the Midland side.
KEY BATTLE: JAKE COOPER (MILLWALL) VS. LEWIS GRABBAN (ASTON VILLA)
Jake Cooper has been in great form this season, and rightly won Neil Harris’ Young Player of the Year at the club’s awards night, but he will have his hands full with the Aston Villa striker. Although his second spell at AFC Bournemouth may not have gone the way he would have liked, Grabban can still find the back of the net at ease in the Championship as his 20 goals this season shows.
Foot off the gas?
Now that neither team have anything to play for, will we see a game full of many changes? Millwall have some tired legs in the ranks, as well as a few injuries, so will Neil Harris change a line-up that has had the most minimal of changes? Steve Bruce may also rest players, as it will be a brave manager to put out his strongest eleven with such huge games on the horizon.
Rest for Archer?
Jordan Archer has had a hot and cold season for the Lions so far, and some in the crowds have questioned his goalkeeping in the previous two fixtures. Archer is still the best goalkeeper at the club and has proven his importance to the side in the long haul, but with nothing left to play for and with pressure building on the Scottish International’s shoulders, could we see David Martin between the sticks for the final game of the season?
PREDICTION: MILLWALL 1-1 ASTON VILLA
The Den will be packed to the rafters and this is still a big game for Millwall, but due to the fact that we can only miraculously mathematically make the play-offs, this doesn’t have the edge or excitement it had a few weeks back. That said, it has been a fantastic season and Neil Harris will want to end the season on a high, but I can’t see Steve Bruce’s side being beaten going into the Championship play-offs.