Millwall’s attempts to reach Wembley for the fourth time in seven years hit a huge stumbling block on Thursday night, as Oxford United eased to a 2-0 win in the first leg of the Southern Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Having lost the last four home games, the Lions will be looking to bounce back this Sunday, as they welcome Port Vale to The Den for a League One clash. Vale fan, Dan Phillips, provides ‘The View From The Opposition’…
Name: Dan Phillips
First Port Vale game: Bolton Wanderers at home – 17th August 1996. A 1-1 draw with Tony Naylor getting our goal.
Greatest moment following Port Vale: As I was too young to appreciate the superb team of the 80’s and early 90’s, I’ve only experienced two really memorable bits of success – our LDV Vans Trophy win in Cardiff in April 2001, that came courtesy of a 2-1 win against Brentford and our automatic promotion from League Two in the 2012/13 season, which was mathematically secured with a last-day 1-1 draw at Wycombe Wanderers.
Vale currently sit tenth in the table (at the time of writing) – how has the season gone so far, in your opinion?: It depends entirely on whether you’re a glass half-full, or a glass half-empty type of person. A lot of Vale supporters are pleased with what we’ve achieved thus far, with us only four points off the top six and with one of the best home records in the division (our only home league defeat coming to, ironically, yourselves). However, some supporters, like myself, feel we should be doing better, as we have dropped points in games we shouldn’t have and our manager – for some reason – sets us up (most of the time) extremely negatively away from home (hence we have lost 9 games so far – 8 of those losses have come away from home). Strangely enough, though, we haven’t conceded more than 2 goals in any game this season, which shows it’s just those individual errors we need to cut out.
Sunday’s opponents, Millwall, sit just outside the play-offs – is that where you expected them to be?: Pretty much exactly where I saw them being at this point in the season. I expected them to flirt with the top six and be there or thereabouts, but drop points in games they really shouldn’t be, which would see them fail to break into the top six. I still think they will finish in the top half, but their chances of a top six finish rely heavily on them massively improving their home form, which isn’t the prettiest.
Who are Port Vale’s ‘ones to watch’ on Sunday?: Jak Alnwick is an excellent goalkeeper – probably one of the best in the division – and has Premier League appearances under his belt after his time at Newcastle United last season. We are blessed with two of the best defensive midfielders in the division in Anthony Grant and veteran Michael Brown. The former is back from a two-game suspension for accumulating ten yellow cards and the latter has filled in in the last two games at home to Bury and away to Blackpool, both resulting in clean sheets and MOTM performances from the 39-year old. His technique, experience in pressure situations and his engine is phenomenal for a bloke his age and he loves a crunching tackle or three.
Ajay Leitch-Smith has 7 goals to his name already this season (and is our top scorer), after only managing 2 in the entire season last year with rock-bottom Yeovil Town. He’s your typical poacher; playing off the shoulder and his movement is exceptional. He can be a little lightweight – I feel we’d see even more from him should we bring in another striker to play alongside him.
Likewise, are there any Millwall players that you will be wary of?: Aiden O’Brien is the one that springs to mind instantly. A talented young lad who, I believe, came through the youth ranks at Millwall and after being sent out on loan for a few years, has broke into the first team properly now and has scored some wonderful goals already this season. Fred Onyedinma is a handful, as natural pace always causes problems at this level; he performed admirably at Vale Park earlier in the season and gave our full-back the run around. Jimmy Abdou, the midfield stalwart, has been at Millwall for 7 over years now and his qualities are there for everybody to see. I can see whoever wins the midfield battle having a say on who wins on Sunday.
Finally, how do you see the game going?: As I alluded to above, the midfield battle is key for me. It depends whether our manager recalls Anthony Grant, or lets Michael Brown keep his place. Our home game being postponed (for the second time) against Swindon Town on Tuesday may be a blessing in disguise for the latter, as he will have sufficiently rested enough to be able to play again. We need to be defensively solid and not allow Steve Morison time on the ball, whether that be him attacking the ball, or holding it up to bring others into play. We have a tendency to concede goals that come from silly mistakes, so that will need to be addressed if we are to leave The Den with anything.
Score Prediction: Millwall 1-1 Port Vale.
Dan’s Team Prediction: Jak Alnwick; Ben Purkiss, Richard Duffy, Ryan McGivern, Carl Dickinson (c); Michael Brown, Michael O’Connor; Byron Moore, Sam Foley, Colin Daniel; Ajay Leitch-Smith.
Millwall v Port Vale takes place at The Den on Sunday, January 17th. Kick-off is at 3pm.