AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to regain second place when they host Championship rivals Millwall at Vitality Stadium on Tuesday (7.45pm kick-off).
Victory for Jason Tindall’s team – in a game which was postponed on Boxing Day – would see them leapfrog Swansea and go second at the halfway stage of the season.
Millwall and the Cherries both triumphed in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday, the Lions winning 2-0 at National League Boreham Wood.
Gary Rowett’s team have drawn ten of their 21 league games this season and arrive in Dorset with one Championship win in their past 13 matches.
They have won on their travels at Rotherham (1-0), Wycombe (2-1), Preston (2-0) and Bristol City (2-0) as well as holding leaders Norwich to a 0-0 draw at Carrow Road in November.
Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Richard Cawley who covers the fortunes of Millwall for the South London Press.
MILLWALL IN PROFILE
Manager: Gary Rowett (October 2019)
Club captain: Alex Pearce
Last game: Boreham Wood 0-2 Millwall (FA Cup)
Leading goalscorer 2020/21: Jed Wallace (six in Championship)
League position: 17th
Past six league results: LDLWDL
afcb.co.uk: Is 17th place a fair reflection of Millwall’s season so far?
RC: I’d say probably not. I think you can look at a number of the draws – and there have been ten of them this season – and say at least three or four of them could have merited more points.
When you start to work that into the scenario, a realistic position would probably be in the middle part of the table, up to 11th or 12th.
The big problem they’ve had is that they haven’t scored enough goals. It’s been something which has been an issue for Gary Rowett for a while.
You can look at the loans they made to try to rectify it but I still think it’s been a problem for them and, until they solve it, it’s always going to impede their progress.
afcb.co.uk: Summarise Gary Rowett’s tenure?
RC: I think he’s done a really good job. People might not like me saying it but the reality of the situation is that Millwall are not competing at the top end of the Championship in terms of budgets.
They finished eighth in his first season and he did a brilliant job in turning it around after a struggle and concerns about them getting dragged into the drop fight.
This season, injuries have not helped. And when you’ve got a smaller squad and a lot of fixtures in a short space of time due to the pandemic, I don’t think it’s helped them.
This one sounds like an excuse but it’s a fact – technically, Millwall are not at the same level as some of the other teams in the Championship because of the money that’s on show.
That’s where the crowd at The Den come into their own and act as a leveller. That’s been a real issue for them and they’ve only had one league win at home all season.
When you look at what Gary Rowett has done, I think he’s done a really good job. The expectations and bar were raised by the eighth-placed finish last season. It’s a bit like with Neil Harris in their first season, they went fairly close to getting in the play-offs which would have been an outstanding achievement.
afcb.co.uk: How has Connor Mahoney fared since he joined the Lions?
RC: Connor is due back from injury fairly soon. He struggled to get his best form in his first season and he said as much at the start of this season.
He is a player they need to try to get more from because there have been flashes of the quality he’s got, maybe more than flashes.
He’s one of the best finishers at the club and, in terms of his crossing ability, I can think of quite a few occasions where really good deliveries into the box have led to goals.
Perhaps he hasn’t been able to do it enough on a consistent basis and, at times, that’s even led to him not being in the squad when fit.
During what has been a difficult recent run, Millwall have been crying out for someone like Connor to give them that bit of extra quality in the final third and he would have had more opportunities had he not been injured.
We’ve seen it in flashes but I think he would say it himself, he probably needs to do it more than he has.
afcb.co.uk: Tyler Burey earned some rave reviews for his display against Boreham Wood – give us your take on him?
RC: He’s a young lad who I first saw play for Wimbledon against Charlton in an EFL Trophy tie. He came on and I liked what I saw.
He got on the ball straightaway, he was fearless and was prepared to run at defenders.
He came out of contract at Wimbledon and Millwall signed him. He’ll always try to be positive and try to get on the front foot and that’s something Millwall need.
When you’re not on a good run, you need players to be brave in the final third and he is that.
He’s definitely raw. Even against Boreham Wood, Gary Rowett said afterwards that there were moments where his inexperienced showed.
But he’s one of those players who will always try to get into those dangerous positions. Millwall have been very reliant on Jed Wallace and they need other players in the final third. I think Tyler will get more game-time in the second half of the season.
afcb.co.uk: The Lions have drawn ten of their 21 league games – points lost or points gained?
RC: Technically, it’s points gained. But it’s just been the fact that they don’t finish off teams that has allowed them to drop those points.
I think they are a player or two away from being a really good side that could challenge. I don’t think it’s going to happen this season.
They are 12 points behind the play-offs and it would take a hell of a surge for them to come through.
But if they could solve the striking problems and Ken Zohore, when he’s fit, gives them something different up front. He gives them a focal point and more quality in the final third.
If he could stay fit, they could definitely climb the table. But I think it’s a big ask to outstrip some very good teams at the top of the table. The only way is up for Millwall. As long as they could finish mid-table or above, I think that would be viewed, yet again, as a more than respectable season.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Millwall’s one to watch?
RC: Ken Zohore, a striker who’s on loan from West Brom.
He scored at Preston and then sustained a calf injury. It was a really good centre-forward display.
He’s just got back to fitness and they are trying to manage his minutes. He started and scored a really good goal against Boreham Wood and I think he’s one to look out for.
He’s a strong and powerful striker who holds up the ball well and links the play well. I’m sure Gary Rowett will be keen to give him as many minutes as he can.
His future is a little up in the air in the sense that he’s only on loan until the middle of this month and then it needs to be reviewed. If he’s fit, Millwall will 100 per cent want him to stay because he adds quality to their frontline.
afcb.co.uk: Are any players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
RC: There aren’t too many. Connor Mahoney and Billy Mitchell are both not too far away from being back in full training but won’t be available for Bournemouth.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
RC: I’ll go for a 0-0 draw.
Officials: Tim Robinson (referee), Nigel Lugg (assistant), Lee Venamore (assistant), James Linington (fourth official).
You can follow Richard on Twitter – @RichCawleySLP