Millwall arrive at Carrow Road full of confidence having enjoyed a positive start to the season.
On the Ball City spoke to John Kelly, the sports editor at Southwark Newspapers, about the Lions campaign so far and what their aspirations are in the Championship this season.
Millwall have enjoyed a positive start to the campaign this season, losing just one of their opening seven games. Having finished just outside the play-offs last season, what are the expectations for this campaign?
They want and expect another play-off challenge and think they can improve on last season. The players have said they are focusing on performances and on getting more points than 2019-20 and seeing where they end up. So, it's not, 'we're targeting fifth/sixth' exactly. Manager Gary Rowett said after the 4-3 defeat at QPR in the second-last game of last season that ended their top-six chance, that they shouldn’t be happy just to be 'punching above our weight', that they needed to get rid of the 'little old Millwall' tag. Rowett has said a number of times that he has a really good squad of players that are often underestimated for their ability to play football, rather than just rough up opponents.
What have the performances been like so far this season and where can you see room for improvement in what the Lions are doing?
The 2-0 win at Preston North End last Wednesday was their third victory in four league games on the road. Last season, they didn't win away from home in the league until November 23, so that's a huge improvement already. Home form can improve, but I think a lot of teams are finding it difficult at home at the moment with no fans. Millwall have also been creating lots of chances, and if they had taken a handful more of them I really think they would be second now. I know lots of teams could say that about taking more chances, but the Lions do need a couple of players to step up and be more ruthless in front of goal to really get firmly into that top six as we go further into the season.
Millwall have been hit recently by a few Covid-19 positive tests, including to manager Gary Rowett. With the game at Carrow Road on Tuesday, November 3, what effect could that have in terms of team selection?
Gary Rowett is set to be back after November 2, so it looks like he'll be at Carrow Road. But even if he wasn't he would still be picking the team. At Preston, Millwall had captain Alex Pearce and player-coach Shaun Williams in charge - such an unprecedented situation. They were helped by under-23 manager Kevin Nugent. Pearce did the post-match interview and spoke like a manager. He commands massive respect in the dressing room, as does Williams, and both have been on coaching courses together. For them to go to Preston and get that win was amazing. Having said that, there is an awful lot of experience in the team with the core group having been together for three or four seasons. They are a very determined bunch and were never likely to use the issue of an absent senior coaching staff as an excuse. Rowett also did the team talks for the games he missed through Zoom, and he made the decisions on substitutions. So, it was obviously unusual, but even Rowett said it wasn't a huge issue.
How crucial will having Gary Rowett back on the touchline be. Is he good at getting the players going from the touchline as well as making in-game tactical adjustments, rather than just at half-time?
He actually told me it's easier to be objective watching it from his apartment in London as he's not getting involved with refereeing decisions, talking to the fourth official, etc. But, of course, it's much easier for the manager to get messages across being physically in the technical area. He's quite a calm character, not a Martin O'Neill type bouncing around on the touchline. In terms of adjustments he's not afraid to make big calls. He took his skipper Pearce off in the 42nd minute of the league games against Luton last New Year's Day and switched from five to four at the back. Millwall came back from 1-0 down at half-time to win 3-1.
Millwall are undoubtedly a good team in the air – only currently Cardiff City have won more aerial duels this campaign. What are they like from set-pieces and how much of a factor do you think that could be to the Lions getting a result?
Before Huddersfield, Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper had only scored one goal between them this season. Considering Hutchinson scored six last season and Cooper seven the one before that, they should be getting more. Rowett said they should be scoring at least a combined 10 goals between them every season. So that's another area where there's lots of room for improvement. Matt Smith is excellent in the air, but not a guaranteed starter. Rowett signed Kenneth Zohore from West Brom on loan, another six-foot-plus player. Millwall could easily pick a team with nine or 10 players over six foot. Defensively, if it's five at the back with Hutchinson, Pearce and Cooper the centre-backs, not many teams will get the better of them from set-pieces.
Last time the two sides met at Carrow Road it was a seven-goal thriller in November 2018. Do you think the game has potential for goals? Are we likely to see Millwall come and attack and look to get at Norwich’s defence?
Millwall had been pretty shaky at the back leading up to that game and as I recall Norwich were playing some really good attacking football, so I guess it wasn't a huge surprise we saw lots of goals. I'd expect Millwall to be a lot more defensively sound given how difficult they have been to break down this season. They are much more proactive on the ball under Rowett compared to under Neil Harris and enjoy a lot more possession. But they can sit in and defend for long spells as well before breaking with the pace. I think we're more likely to see that approach on Tuesday.