It's back! After a summer where just for a second it may've been coming home, the domestic game has returned! The curtain raises at The Den and it is Middlesbrough who are joining our boys in navy onstage.
After a season where the Lions were in touching distance of the play-offs and flirted with the idea of the Premier League, it is the team who denied us the chance of getting there in our opening game. Tony Pulis' men were defeated play-off semi finalists last season and will want to get off to a good start as they look towards promotion from the second tier. Although the Lions had a fantastic campaign last season, many have tipped Millwall to struggle, so Neil Harris will want to get points on the board early.
Haven't we met before?...
Millwall 2-1 Middlesbrough, 16th December 2017 – Two first half goals from Jed Wallace and George Saville were enough to see the Lions victorious over Garry Monk's side and extend Millwall's unbeaten run to three league games. A second half long range effort from Stewart Downing made this a nervy affair for the home fans, but Millwall were the better side overall and this result left the South London side comfortably nine points above the drop zone.
Millwall have come through pre-season unscathed and have no injuries or niggles to worry about. Although Lee Gregory has missed the last couple of friendlies for personal reasons, the striker should return for this game. The Lions will play with the same side who featured for the majority of last season, so new loan signing Ben Amos will likely be on the bench while Jordan Archer starts.
Middlesbrough will be sweating on the fitness of Adama Traore, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pre-season friendly against Sunderland last Friday. Traore was a player rumoured to be on the move before the transfer window closes, but with Patrick Bamford leaving the Riverside for Leeds United and with Britt Assombolonga appearing inconsistent since Pulis' arrival, Traore will be the main man up front for 'Boro in this fixture if fit.
Both clubs had been relatively quiet in the transfer window and seemingly left it late to make their business, but the arrival of Jiri Skalak at The Den has boosted morale and 'Boro have completed the signing of Andy Lonergan after the goalkeeper left Leeds United.
THE ONE TO WATCH -
Last season’s Player of the Year Runner-Up has continued his impressive form into pre-season and once again seems to be the spark in the Millwall side. The goals he has scored against Dartford, Colchester and VFL Bochum have been exquisite efforts from range that have seen the opposition ‘keepers beaten, and the Lions are a different side when the midfielder is not playing. The new number seven adds excitement, pace and skill to a strong Millwall side so expect Wallace to be the difference in this fixture.
Who are ya?!
For this week’s ‘Who are ya?’ we sit down with @EverythingMFC. This week we ask the team if they think they can close the gap on the Championship top two, Tony Pulis' style of play and who the Millwall fans should be worried about on this opening day fixture.
You finished last season in a Championship Play-Off place, but were 14 points away from the automatic places. Do you think this year with Tony Pulis in charge from the start you can make up the difference?
I'd like to hope so given his experience within the game, but given we're close to the end of the transfer window and still have considerable gaps to fill within our squad, I'd say it's unlikely. I can see us getting off to a slow start as certain players bed in to the tactics of the system, which could put us behind the early pace setters in what I predict will be a challenging Championship season.
Pulis’ style of play isn’t sometimes the easiest on the eye and although a successful manager, it can be seen as very direct at times. Will your fans accept this if it results in promotion, or would you rather a manager who plays a more expansive game?
Of course fans would love to watch an expansive style of football week in, week out - but Boro supporters should know by now that it's not easy in this division. Teams will come to the Riverside, shut up shop (without even opening it), and sit back to counter for a sneaky win, or take away a hard-earned point. I can only speak for myself, but if promotion is the end result then I can't really complain too much.
Britt Assombalonga is a real talent at this level and is the arguably one of the best attackers in the league, but can he pick up the workload now that Patrick Bamford has left for Leeds United?
There has been question marks over Britt Assombalonga's place in the side ever since Tony Pulis was appointed. He endured a baron spell which coincided with Patrick Bamford's purple patch in March - so he was subsequently benched towards the latter end of the season. He may not be a 'Tony Pulis player' like everyone mentions, but he's a goalscorer, and I have no doubts that he'll be our top scorer again this season.
Which player should the home fans be wary of and who is your main threat?
Our main threat is by far and wide Adama Traore, but luckily for you Sunderland crocked him during a pre-season friendly and he's currently sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. Aside from him, Assombalonga is always a threat. Paddy McNair has emerged as a keen goalscorer of late so is one to keep an eye on too. Aden Flint has garnered a reputation of being a goalscoring defender so you'll have to be on your A game for corners.
What do you think the score will be of the game?
1-1 or 2-1 Boro. You'll make it a very difficult game for us with your fans and players right up for it. We caved under pressure in the last meeting but I'd like to think we've learnt from our mistakes.
PREDICTION: MILLWALL 1-0 MIDDLESBROUGH
Taking the defeat against Colchester United aside, Millwall's pre-season preparation has been pretty impressive. Plenty of goals, convincing performances and a number of clean sheets means that Neil Harris will begin this Championship campaign with confidence. When the fixtures were released, Middlesbrough was not one of the games that supporters would've chosen as a season-opener, but with a roaring backing from the Millwall fans I can see the Lions getting a positive result. There may not be plenty of goals in this one, but I can see Millwall coming away with the three points.
Come on you Lions.