This midweek Championship fixture sees Neil Harris' Millwall welcome Paul Cook's Wigan Athletic to The Den. The Lions are desperate for points and after last weekend's disappointing 3-1 away defeat to Reading, a more clinical display in front of goal is needed.
Wigan's form in the early stages of the season so far has been mixed and although they have lost five of their thirteen games, the six wins they have already chalked up sees them sitting in eighth place and within touching distance of the Championship's play-off places.
Games between the two have tended to be feisty affairs, with Wigan being something of a bogey team for Millwall in the late 90's and early 2000's. The Lactics have been a team who have also inflicted recent heartbreak on the South London side, with the Greater Manchester outfit defeating the Lions at both the old and new Wembley stadiums in the Auto Windscreen Final and FA Cup Semi Final. This game may not be at the level of the latter stages of a cup competition, but this is a huge, must-win game for the home side.
Haven't we met before?...
Millwall 3-3 Wigan Athletic, Saturday 14th August 1999 – The Lactics were left scratching their head and thinking of what could've been as Millwall came from three goals down to salvage a point at The Den. Goals from Andy Liddell, Stuart Balmer and Stuart Barlow had Wigan on course for the win, but a spirited performance from Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary's side rescued a draw when all looked lost. Two goals in the last twelve minutes of normal time from Paul Shaw and Tim Cahill seemed to spare the blushes of the home side, before Neil Harris stepped up in second half injury time and fired home his penalty.
After defeat to the Royals last weekend, Shaun Hutchinson and Tom Bradshaw are in contention to start, as is Aiden O'Brien who impressed from the substitute's bench. Jiri Skalak could also come in for the Lions, as could club captain, Steve Morison who played the last twenty three minutes of the game at the Madejski Stadium.
Paul Cook's side have no new injury concerns going into this game, although Darron Gibson continues to serve his suspension for a red card against Preston North End. Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs and Gavin Massey all remain doubtful with ongoing hamstring issues.
THE ONE TO WATCH -
The former Manchester United man has been in great form for the Lactics this season and is the club's top goalscorer so far with four goals in thirteen games for the club. Along with the goals against Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City, Powell is also top of the charts for assists with four chances created for his side. A fan favourite among the DW faithful, the August Player of the Month will be confident going into this game and hoping to increase his goal tally.
WHO ARE YA?
For this week's 'Who Are Ya?', we speak with the Pie at Night Podcast. This week we ask the Wigan fans are they surprised to be where they are in the table, how good has Nick Powell been so far and would they take mid-table after year's of yo-yoing between the top three divisions of English Football.
1. After a successful promotion last season you find yourselves within touching distance of the play-offs. Are you surprised or did you think you were capable of this?
Surprised that we’re challenging for a play off place? Maybe, but it’s still early in the season. Too early to be talking about that sort of thing. Surprised that we’re not the whipping boys of the division? Not at all. A reasonable proportion of our fans (and opposition ones) had probably judged our prospects against our relegation two years ago, but that was more down to mis-management than a lack of talent. We’ve come up with a stronger set of players this year and I was expecting (hoping?) that we’d finally get the season of mid-table mediocrity that’s eluded us for the last couple of decades.
2. Although you are in the top half of the table, your form has been relatively inconsistent. What has been the reason for this and can you see this changing?
If I was going to pick one reason, I’d say that’s down to Paul Cook send his team to attack. Whilst it makes for exciting games it does leave us quite open. Things are more complicated than that and we’ve not been helped by the odd injury or two preventing Cook putting his strongest team out most weeks. One of these has been Will Grigg, which has left us short of firepower up front. Will it change? Well, I’ve noticed some tweaks to how we were set up on Saturday that suggests Cook might be aiming at a more cautious style of play. But whether that was tactical, after all we were playing the division’s top scorers, or through necessity, based on the players available.
3. Nick Powell has been in great form and won the player of the month award for August. How important has he been for the Lactics?
Everyone wants a player like Nick Powell in their team. He’s an unpredictable and precocious talent, but he can run a game and do things that other players can’t. Last season, there were games where he looked like a dad playing 5-a-side at a eighth birthday party. He was that far ahead of the division. This year he’s more like the seasoned pro who’s taken a step down but is still a class above. So, yes, he’s been very important to us. In fact I’d say my biggest worry is that we don’t seem to have a way of playing without him. Yet.
4. After being in the Premier League for so long, you have recently found yourself yo-yoing between the second and third tier. Would you take a mid table finish if it was offered to you now?
Yes, I’d snatch your hand off. As I hinted at before, we’ve spent the last 20 years valiantly plugging away at either promotion or relegation battles. A season of consolidation would do the club, the fans and the blood pressure clinics of Wigan no end of good.
5. Which players do the home fans need to look out for?
We’ve mentioned Powell already. Josh Windass has struggled to settle so far, but had his first game in the centre for us on Saturday and looked a different player. But your real job will be getting past the back four. The names Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre will probably raise a “who?” In most South London boozers, but your forwards will know they’ve been in a game tomorrow night. Our two loanees, 'keeper Christian Walton and right back Reece James have also been key, with James making the early running for player of the season.
6. What do you think the score will be?
Hmmm, I don’t really like predictions. But as we’ve just had a win and, as you said, our form has been up and down, I’ll go for a draw. That said, if, as the home team, you try to attack us, then we might grab a win on the break.
PREDICTION: MILLWALL 1-1 WIGaN ATHLETIC
This is a crucial game for both teams as a win for Millwall will see the home side leap out of the relegation zone and three points for the Lactics will see the Greater Manchester outfit go into the play-offs. As this is a game that neither can afford to lose, I can see it being just that and both sides cancelling each other out. The two teams do find the back of the net on a regular basis, but recent results have shown that there are still plenty of questions asked about their defending, so a score draw is my prediction for this one.
Come on you Lions.