Ipswich Town look to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat to West Brom with a home game against Millwall this evening (8pm). Alex Jones, who covered Millwall last seasontakes a look at the Lions.

East Anglian Daily Times: A run of four defeats from six games saw Millwall miss out on the play-offs last seasonA run of four defeats from six games saw Millwall miss out on the play-offs last season (Image: PA)

So close yet so far

Millwall have a history of falling just short of the play-offs, having narrowly missed out at the end of the 2021/22 campaign. It meant that they went into last season knowing that they had to bridge the gap, with a big summer of recruitment putting them into a good position to challenge.

The league looked weaker, yet a 2-0 defeat at eventual champions Burnley at the end of August left them just a couple of points above the relegation zone. Results soon changed from poor to inconsistent, but a 2-1 loss at Blackburn Rovers forced manager Gary Rowett to go back to the drawing board.

His preferred back five wasn’t working, and with pressure from supporters to move away from the system, he switched to a 4-2-3-1 for their 1-1 draw at Rotherham United in early October. The Lions quickly improved, suffering just two defeats in their next 13 games.

February’s 3-2 win against Sheffield United was the defining moment in their campaign and proved that they could mix it with the best. A top-two finish looked a bridge too far due to their a poor start, but with their top-six rivals faltering, they knew that their fate was in their own hands.

Their run-in was the easiest of any side in the league, facing the likes of Hull City, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic – all of whom were at the bottom end of the league fighting relegation or with nothing to play for.

This is where the Lions came unstuck, losing to all three teams. However, none of the sides around the top-six could capitalise, meaning that a 3-2 win away at Blackpool sent them into the final day knowing that a win would be enough.

They took a 3-1 lead into half-time against Blackburn Rovers at The Den, but they crumbled and ultimately lost 4-3, meaning that they finished in eighth. After the game, the players and coaching staff all stood lifelessly on the pitch and stared into the empty stands. It was clear that the project had failed.

East Anglian Daily Times: Gary Rowett won 76 of his 196 games in charge of the LionsGary Rowett won 76 of his 196 games in charge of the Lions (Image: PA)

The end of an era

Somewhat surprisingly, Millwall persevered with Rowett in charge. He played a big part in their summer recruitment yet again and guided them to an opening-day win away at Middlesbrough. However, a 4-0 humbling at home to Reading in the Carabao Cup kickstarted a downward spiral, and they simply couldn’t recover.

The results weren’t all bad. 3-0 defeats at home to Leeds United and Swansea City were probably the low points, but the Lions still beat Rotherham United at home before picking up four points from trips to West Brom and Plymouth Argyle. The performances still looked a way short of last season, however, and a 2-2 draw against Hull City proved to be Rowett’s last game in charge.

The manager had mutually agreed with the board that the international break was a good time to step down, meaning that he missed out on his four-year anniversary at the club by just three days.

Assistant manager Adam Barrett was placed in interim charge of the club as the search for a replacement started. The final interview stage was reportedly between former Luton Town boss Nathan Jones and England under-20’s head coach Joe Edwards, with the latter named as the new manager.

East Anglian Daily Times: Joe Edwards' first senior management job has come at Championship leveJoe Edwards' first senior management job has come at Championship leve (Image: PA Images)

Following the trend

The decision to appoint Edwards over Jones was the latest in another move towards clubs hiring younger and more experienced managers with attack-minded philosophies.

While Jones put the building blocks in place for Luton to achieve three promotions in seven years, his spells away from Kenilworth Road at Stoke City and Southampton were borderline disastrous. Edwards, meanwhile, had worked in Chelsea’s academy, guiding the under-18’s to consecutive FA Youth Cup wins in 2015 and 2016.

That saw him promoted to become assistant manager under Frank Lampard and subsequently Thomas Tuchel, helping the latter to guide Chelsea to the Champions League title in 2021. He then switched to join Lampard at Everton before joining the England set-up as interim manager of the under-20’s in August 2023.

He’s had a similar pathway to Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna, as well as the likes of Carlos Corberan at West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday’s Danny Rohl. These appointments are becoming more common throughout the Football League as clubs strive to move past the usual managerial merry-go-round.

Edwards has adopted an attacking 4-4-2 formation that looks very flexible in game, allowing him to switch at a moment’s notice. It’s expansive and attacking, which helped his new side win 4-0 at Hillsborough in his first game in charge. However, Coventry City managed to expose the gaps in their defensive structure, beating the Lions 3-0 at The Den on Saturday afternoon.

East Anglian Daily Times: Zian Flemming is Millwall's top scorer this season with four goals in 17 league gamesZian Flemming is Millwall's top scorer this season with four goals in 17 league games (Image: PA Images)

Who to look out for

Since arriving in South London last summer, Zian Flemming has been the star at Millwall. The Dutchman joined the club from Fortuna Sittard for a reported fee of £1.7 million, going on to score 15 goals and provide three assists as an attacking midfielder. He was subject to a number of bids from Burnley before the start of this season, but the Lions held on.

Striker Tom Bradshaw also played a big part last season, finding the back of the net 17 times with a further three assists. Millwall’s biggest problem is that they were the only two players contributing in the final third, putting a lot of pressure on them to fire their side to the top-six.

That’s where they tried to improve over the summer. Scottish international Kevin Nisbet finally signed from Hibernian after failing a medical at Millwall the previous January, while Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Ryan Longman have both excited fans on loan from Arsenal and Hull City respectively.

This season’s standout has been Casper de Norre, however. The Belgian midfielder joined from OH Leuven back in July and has become a key member of the Lions’ squad as a midfield destroyer, playing a big part in how they try to dictate the tempo of games.

It can’t be forgotten that Bartosz Bialkowski will return to Portman Road to face his former side in a competitive game for the first time, having played 178 games for Ipswich between 2014 and 2020.

He looked to be heading for the exit door at The Den last season after being displaced by George Long, but he went on to sign a new deal before stepping up to become Millwall’s first-choice goalkeeper after summer signing Matija Sarkic picked up an injury.

East Anglian Daily Times: Edwards is hoping that his side can pick up their sixth win of the season tonightEdwards is hoping that his side can pick up their sixth win of the season tonight (Image: PA Images)

Edwards on Ipswich

Unsurprisingly, Edwards is expecting a difficult game at Portman Road in what will be just his third game in charge of Millwall, praising Ipswich for their impressive season so far.

While the Blues won’t have much to work on in terms of his previous games in charge, their home form speaks for itself, and the new Lions boss is aware that his players will face a tough test in Suffolk later tonight.

“I don’t envisage us going to Portman Road and having loads of the ball,” he said. “I know it’ll be a tough shift physically because I watch Ipswich and the way they work.

“It’s no surprise to me they’re doing as well as they are in the league because they work hard.

“This is very early on in a new journey for us. With every game we have, I’m getting to know the players and the team. With everything we see, we try and look to improve.”