Millwall suffered their first home league defeat for three months last Saturday, as a catastrophic afternoon, which saw Jordan Archer sent off, ended in a 3-0 victory for Gillingham. The Christmas period kicks into gear this Saturday (Boxing Day), as the Lions take on another side towards the top of the table, Walsall. Jonathan Owen provides ‘The View From The Opposition’…
Name: Jonathan Owen
First Walsall game: That’s a very, very tough one to place. It was during the 2003/2004 season, at some point. I did a Saturday Soccer School on the astro turf behind the stadium, every Saturday morning for a couple of quid. When a home match was on in the afternoon, they also offered us to come and watch the game with them, too, for a couple extra quid. I did it and got hooked immediately. I must have been 8 or 9, so it didn’t take much to get my attention. My earliest memory of a game was when Coventry beat us 6-1 at home in 2004 and Andy Petterson in goal had probably the worst goalkeeping performance of any player, ever. Didn’t scare me off, though!
Greatest moment following Walsall: Getting promoted and winning League 2 at Swindon, with Dean Keates scoring a sexual (his words, not mine!) volley to equalise and win the title. It was my first ever away game, too – quite a special way to mark that occasion. I can just remember the euphoria after the goal and the buzz the whole town had before and afterwards. Second would been Wembley last season – it would be first, but we lost and played quite poorly, which was a shame.
Walsall currently sit in second place in League One – surely that’s above expectations for this season? Do you think you can last the pace?: It solely depends on whether January goes well for us or terribly. We have three players in the shop window that are all hot properties that other clubs would love to rip from us – Rico Henry, Tom Bradshaw and Romaine Sawyers. I’m pretty much already at peace that Rico will leave to a Man Utd or a Tottenham (hopefully with a loan back option), so it rests solely on whether we can keep Sawyers and Bradshaw.
If one of them do get sold, I see our chances of lasting the pace dropping dramatically, unless the board gives O’Driscoll the funds to replace them – mind you, those replacements would then have to hit the ground running, too. This season overall is definitely above all expectations, though – I was hoping at best for the play-offs, so this is a special experience and I am loving every moment.
How do you view Millwall’s season so far?: Wildly inconsistent. In October and November, you began to look like a force to be reckoned with after a inconsistent start, but December looks to have slammed the brakes on any kind of momentum building up, to boost you up the table. All you need is some consistency and you could easily challenge for the play-offs.
Who are Walsall’s ‘ones to watch’ on Saturday?: Romaine Sawyers, definitely. He is such a pleasure to watch – he will effortlessly control the game and go past players like they aren’t even there. Everything we do goes through him in some way. He is frustrating at times, but this season, he has truly stepped up his game and is far, far too good for this level.
Tom Bradshaw and Rico Henry are also ones to watch, but luckily for you, they are injured and are touch and go to play. Rico is a rapid left-back, who at just 18 years of age, is wise beyond his years on the pitch and a giant threat on the overlap with his electric pace. Bradshaw is a incredibly hard working striker who runs himself into the ground for us, whilst clinically taking his chances when they come to him. He is an absolute pain for any backline to defend against.
Likewise, are there any Millwall players that you will be wary of?: I feel it would be easy to say O’Brien or Gregory, so for me, it would be Mark Beevers. Our defensive record is pretty impressive, but our downfall in this area comes against the big and strong players, who can bully our team of midgets. Making Beevers’ threat from corners and set pieces is a worrying prospect to come up against.
How do you see the game going?: Our away record is a lot better than our home one, so we will go into this quite confident – especially off the back of our promotion rivals, Gillingham, winning 3-0 and Millwall getting Jordan Archer sent off in the process. I reckon we will win…
Score Prediction: Millwall 0-2 Walsall. One early goal, followed by defending for our lives, before we counter and get a second late on.
Jon’s Team Prediction: Etheridge; Demetriou, Downing, O’Connor, Taylor; Chambers; Forde, Evans, Sawyers, Lalkovic; Cook.
The Boxing Day clash between Millwall and Walsall takes place at The Den and kicks-off at 3pm.