After eighth, 11th and ninth-placed finishes in Gary Rowett’s three seasons in charge to date, Millwall are going all out to go one better and attain a Championship Play-Off berth this time around.
The Lions have lost creator-in-chief Jed Wallace and on-loan Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard, but optimism is high after five senior signings.
Exciting midfielder Zian Flemming arrives for a club record fee, Benik Afobe returns to The Den permanently, George Honeyman signs from Hull City while Leeds United youngsters Jamie Shackleton and Charlie Cresswell both join on season long loans.
“The level of the arrivals has been really good. Gary Rowett said he wants to bring in quality players to add to what he already had. I think he has done that.”
The first task was replacing Jed Wallace, who has departed for West Brom after his contract in South Bermondsey expired, but Alex is confident Rowett has chosen well.
“Jed Wallace was always going to be a huge loss. The goals and assists were just part of what he contributed. His general work ethic was first class and he was a very big character amongst the group of players which is something that will be missed.
“However, the club have moved on and found a very good replacement.
“Zian Flemming looks a quality player from what I have seen of him. He can play anywhere across the front three and even behind the strikers in a 10, which is where I think we will see the most of him.
“Rowett wanted him back in January but the move did not quite happen for various reasons, but both sides have managed to get it sorted and over the line this time.
“I am confident that he will fill the boots that have been left by Jed, who we all wish well at West Brom.”
Flemming was poached from Fortuna Sittard, having scored 22 goals and grabbed 11 assists in 60 Eredivisie appearances, while other recruits also look promising according to Alex.
“I’ve been to a couple of pre-season games and seen the players in action. George Honeyman is another quality addition. He has been the best player I have seen so far in the pre-season games. A leader in midfield is what was needed.
“Benik Afobe worked well last season so getting him back was a no brainer, the partnership with Tom Bradshaw grew really well. Charlie Cresswell and Jason Shackleton both look very good additions on loan from Leeds too.”
Shackleton can play in midfield or either full-back or wing-back position; the 22-year-old has already played 78 games for the Whites, helping them to promotion from this level in 2019-20.
Cresswell, who replaces Ballard in central defence, brings rave reviews from the West Yorkshire club where he made five Premier League appearances last season – the 19-year-old is also in the England Under-21s squad.
The 6’2” defender slots into an already solid rear-guard, which has conceded just 129 goals in Rowett’s 125 league games in charge.
“Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace have been outstanding and all have been consistent and very well coached,” notes Alex.
“Ballard came into the set-up last season and did a very good job when he played. It helps that Rowett plays quite a conservative game plan but you still have to have good players to play the system and carry out those instructions.
“A compact five-man defence is unlikely to give much away: that is certainly the case with Millwall over the last few years and I think that will be the case again this time around.”
On Rowett, Alex is impressed with the former Birmingham gaffer’s work in the capital thus far.
“How could you not be? I think he has done a very good job since he walked through the door. This has been the first transfer window where he has actually been able to spend a bit of money.
“All of the signings he has made bar one or two have been very good. The Troy Parrott one didn’t work out so well but that has been the only one that has let him down.
“Yes, the style of play at times can be a bit difficult to watch but it gets results. Being defensively solid can be a tough watch if you aren’t creating anything and then not getting the results, but in the majority of his Millwall reign, he has got the results.
“Millwall used to be a side that would have one good year and then, a bad year. Now they are a team that are consistently in the mix for the play-offs.”
In terms of further additions to aid another push, Alex feels that there is room for more recruits.
“Personally, I’d like two, but I’m not sure we will get that. Another right-wing back is needed.
“I know the arrival of Shackleton will have people thinking that he’s the answer to the cover problem but I think we will see him in midfield. Another player to cover for Danny McNamara is a must.
“If we are being greedy, I would love another striker too!”
Regardless, Alex has lots of believe in the existing squad, which he describes as “the best we’ve had for a while”.
“The new arrivals have all got a good level of experience. Flemming hasn’t played in England yet but I think he will be a great addition.
“Honeyman is a great leader and he can score goals. There are goals in this team and that is what we missed so much last season.
“I believe this is the year that we could breach that top six!”
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