Hooray! It is the first round of the Carabao Cup at home against Gillingham FC. Some see this as a rivalry, whilst others see this as swatting away a noisy insect that is flying around our pride of Lions.
Last season’s League Cup run wasn’t particularly successful for the two sides and ironically both teams were knocked out by Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, with the Gills being eliminated in the first round, before the Lions were beaten in the second.
Gillingham come into this tie in fine form, with two consecutive league victories against League One new boys Accrington Stanley and recently relegated Burton Albion. The Lions are also unbeaten; however, they are yet to record a victory with draws against Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers being their two points on the board.
History leans in Millwall’s favour and sees the Lions undefeated in their last four meetings, but as this is a cup tie which will not be too high on both manager’s priority list, could Steve Lovell’s side produce an upset?
Haven't we met before?...
Millwall 2-1 Gillingham, 4th October 2016 – Millwall had to come from a goal down in this Checkatrade Trophy tie after Josh Wright put the Gills in front in the 17th minute. This was a close affair that looked destined to go towards a penalty shootout, but it was Steve Morison who stepped off the bench and scored a late winner to secure the win after Fred Onyedinma brought the scores level.
This tie will be chance for a number of Millwall’s fringe players to stake a claim for a starting place. Ben Amos will likely start in goal for the Lions, with Conor McLaughlin, Byron Webster and Murray Wallace expected to feature in this fixture. New signing Jiri Skalak should start out wide for Neil Harris’ men and Ryan Tunnicliffe is also likely to make an appearance in the middle of the park.
Gillingham may experiment with their side also, however as they are playing against stronger opposition, then expect to see a number of key players take to the field. Goalkeeper Tomas Holy has proved himself to be a popular figure for the Kent side, and if he starts he will make it a tricky night for the Lions front two. Gillingham's goal threat comes from Tom Eaves and the fact he managed to get comfortably into double figures in a side that was fighting relegation last season shows his quality.
THE ONE TO WATCH -
Millwall's Czech winger was an exciting signing for the Lions and has a lot of fans in the stands eagerly anticipating moments that made him such a favourite at Brighton, but the only appearances we have seen so far have been cameos from the substitute's bench. The superb form of Aiden O'Brien hasn't helped Skalak's case to start games, so the midfielder will be keen to show Neil Harris and his team mates why he should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Who are ya?!
For this week’s ‘Who Are Ya?’ we speak with The Gills Fancast. For this week's chat, we ask the guys how they feel after their opening victories, how they managed to escape the trap door to League Two last season and which Gillingham player we need to look out for...
Two wins from two games against two potential banana skins. Good way to start the season isn’t it?
It’s been a fantastic start. Accrington away first up looked a really tricky encounter, on paper at least, given the fact they’d come into the division as League 2 champions. We then had the opposite end of the spectrum on Saturday, playing a recently relegated team in Burton Albion, winning 3-1 with a thoroughly impressive performance which could easily have been a wider victory but for the woodwork and some excellent goalkeeping.
Last season was a bit of a nail biter and you finished just six points clear of the drop zone. Did you ever fear you may end up in the fourth tier of English football?
There was more than just fear. In October we were already relegated in the eyes of most supporters, simple as that. We couldn’t score goals, couldn’t create chances, and looked like an outfit that genuinely didn’t believe they could win football matches. Fortunately, the Chairman swiftly acknowledged our dire situation and dismissed Adrian Pennock and Peter Taylor, and Steve Lovell transformed our season after taking the reigns.
What would you put the poor finish down to, the lack of goals scored (only 50) must’ve been a concern?
As you say, goals were a big problem. Although Tom Eaves netted 17 last term, and Josh Parker also hit double figures, there was a distinct lack of contribution from the rest of the team. When those two were off form, we generally didn’t score.
Our home form was also a big issue last season. We won just 5 of our 23 league matches at Priestfield, the worst in the club’s history. Luckily our away record under Lovell was fantastic, otherwise we probably would have fallen through the relegation trap door.
What are your aspirations for this season and where do you realistically think you can finish?
Thanks to the forward strides made under Lovell during his tenure to date, the feeling around the club is on the whole a lot more optimistic this year, particularly after our opening two games. We certainly shouldn’t allow ourselves to get embroiled in a relegation scrap this season, and should comfortably achieve a mid-table finish.
Whether or not we can push into the top half will depend on us finding the back of the net on a more consistent basis in comparison to twelve months ago, but the start has hinted at promising signs. Defensively we’re a solid outfit, so if we could add 20 goals to last season’s tally, a potential play-off push isn’t totally out of the equation.
Although this is only a league cup game, do you think the team will take it seriously? Which player should the Millwall fans look out for?
I expect us to respect the competition and try to win the game, so I can only see Lovell making a couple of changes to the team. Should he play, look out for Luke O’Neill, his attacking prowess from right-back is a big asset to us. Pacey forward Brandon Hanlan has also started the season well, and he will certainly be threat in-behind the Millwall back line.
Finally, what is your score prediction?
After two wins from two to start the campaign, I have to be positive. There’s no doubt that Millwall will present a stern test, but our away record is good and we generally defend well. I think we can sneak a 1-1 draw in normal time, and then penalties are anyone’s game, so I’ll go for a Gillingham win on spot kicks.
PREDICTION: MILLWALL 2-0 GILLINGHAM
It is still early in the season and how this year goes will not be decided in a first round cup fixture against a League One side, but I still expect Millwall to put on a solid and professional performance. Neil Harris and the fringe players will be eager to impress the home fans and get a win under our belt to build some momentum, so a comfortable win and a clean sheet is my prediction this evening.
Come on you Lions.