Nottingham Forest will make the infamous trip to The Den tomorrow as they lock horns with Gary Rowett’s in-form Millwall side in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Sabri Lamouchi's men are perched in fourth place, with a win by three or more goals tomorrow potentially inching them ahead of Fulham into third.
However, Saturday's 0-1 home defeat to Cardiff City came as somewhat of a reality check for The Reds, exposing previously hidden weaknesses and inabilities. They laboured against Cardiff's low block, unable to fashion any clear-cut opportunities. It can only be a positive though, as this Forest side - and manager in Lamouchi - are willing to learn from their mistakes and better themselves as a team.
They face stiff opposition tomorrow, however, with Millwall looking a vastly-improved side under the stewardship of Rowett. Upon the ex-Derby manager's arrival, the Lions have accumulated three wins, three draws, and just the one loss. Three points would tomorrow would propel them into 10th, and reduce the distance from the playoffs to just two points.
The Reds have a poor record at The Den, winless in their last four league fixtures there. They will need to put that right tomorrow, as they can not afford for the gap between the top three and the rest to grow into unto an insurmountable void.
Defender Shaun Hutchinson (rib) and midfielder Ryan Leonard (knee) are both likely to watch from the stands on Friday, while Northen Ireland Shane Ferguson could well make his return to the starting XI, after a knee cartilage issue sidelined him for the bulk of the November fixtures. “It’s settled down [Ferguson’s knee injury] and he went and trained [Monday]. He felt okay,” Rowett said in the build up to the game.
Predicted XI: Bialkowski [GK], Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, M. Wallace, J. Wallace, Molumby, Williams, Ferguson, Thompson, Smith.
Left-back Yuri Ribeiro has returned to training after a knee injury, though is unlikely to start with Lamouchi favouring Jack Robinson in that role against the more direct sides away from home. Star midfielder Samba Sow is also not too far off a return to the squad, while Ryan Yates will serve the second of his two-match suspension at The Den.
Predicted XI: Samba [GK], Cash, Figuerido, Worrall, Robinson, Watson, Bostock, Ameobi, Silva, Lolley, Grabban.
Forest's low block woes
Forest’s slip up on Saturday came not as a result of a noticeably poor performance, but rather because they were tasked with a relatively new proposition - breaking down a low block.
After Nathaniel Mendez-Laing's pinpoint finish in the 14th minute, Cardiff hurled bodies behind the ball, sitting very deep and inviting Forest to try and break them down. To their credit, the Bluebirds defended stoically, organising themselves well and dealing with cross after cross with ease.
It's the sort of praise that has been dished out for Lamouchi's men this season, with the Frenchman having moulded the defence into a solid, compact unit that is comfortable without lots of possession. So, when Cardiff played Forest at their own game and sat back, it was no surprise that Forest looked rather clueless and disorientated at times.
Instead of being patient and moving the ball around quickly to try and open gaps in the Cardiff defence, the Reds panicked, either crossing aimlessly into the box or snatching at shots from ridiculous distances.
Rowett's sides have always been notorious for sitting deep and absorbing lots of pressure, so Forest are going to have to quicken their movement of the ball in order to forge openings in the Millwall backline. And above all, they must cut out the panicked crosses into the box, as the towering Millwall centre-half duo of Alex Pearce and Jake Cooper are primed for aerial duels.
Reds must be wary of star man Wallace
With seven goals and four assists to his name, Jed Wallace is undoubtedly the shining light in this Millwall side. Whether he's dazzling with some trickery on the right flank, or occupying defenders with his deft movements in and around the frontman, Wallace has been a constant nuisance for opposition defenders this season.
And tomorrow, in front of the Sky Sports cameras, will be the perfect time to announce himself to Aston Villa fans - the club whom he has been heavily linked with a £10 million transfer. The 25-year-old has insisted upon his allegiance to Millwall, telling News At Den: "I've signed here three times, people know how committed I am to Millwall." In reality, though, any Millwall player's ears will prick up when Villa come calling, so in the back of his mind he'll undoubtedly be wanting to put on a show for the Villains tuning in.
The managers have their say
Despite lying nine places above Millwall, Lamouchi has ensured that he will not underestimate the home side as “every fixture in the Championship is very tough”. In his pre-match press conference with NFFCTube, he said:
“I’ve heard many things about Millwall. I know they have good players. The manager, he has a good team and is also good himself. It could be a tough game for us, I know that.”
He continued: “But every game in the Championship is very tough for us, at home or away. We’ve played 18 games and number 19 will be just as tough as the others.”
Rowett has mirrored his counterpart’s cautiousness this week, warning his team and the media of the quality that Forest possess. He told the Millwall website:
”Listen, they’re a really good side. I think they’ve been really well-coached by Lamouchi and you can see that coming out in the team. A very well structured side.”
He added: “They’ve got the players there to counterattack very effectively. Players like Joe Lolley, Grabban, Carvalho all have really good quality in transitions, which is something we’ve got to be mindful of and maintain our shape well for.”