The 2019/20 Championship season will finally resume on June 20 after a break of more than three months due to COVID-19. The Den will be almost empty when Millwall take on Derby County, in a game which could have big implications for the promotion play-off race.
Millwall Host Derby County at The New Den
A Congested Play-Off Race
When Gary Rowett joined Millwall in October 2019, the Lions were only five points clear of the relegation zone, but he has turned them into genuine play-off contenders. Since his arrival they have only lost two home games and have been solid defensively, keeping a total of 10 clean sheets.
Millwall made a signal of their intent by beating promotion candidates Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the City Ground in their last match before the restart, leaving them in eighth position, two points behind Preston in the final play-off spot.
As for Derby, another play-off push did not look likely after they won just one of their opening eight league games under new boss Phillip Cocu. However, an improvement in performances after Christmas brought better results, therefore giving the Rams a slim chance of making a late surge for the top six.
They have been particularly impressive at Pride Park, having lost just two of their nineteen home league matches so far, although one of those defeats did come against Millwall.
Rowett’s Rams Connections
Millwall’s manager is certainly no stranger to Derby County. As a player, Rowett turned out for the Rams regularly for three consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1998, after joining the club from Everton. Of the eight different clubs he featured for during his playing career, it was at Derby where he made the most appearances, finishing with a total of four goals from his 120 appearances in white and black.
Almost 19 years after leaving Derbyshire, Rowett was back with the Rams as manager in March 2017, replacing Steve McClaren in the Pride Park hot seat. In his first full campaign in charge, Derby finished in sixth place, therefore qualifying for the Championship play-offs, where they would face Fulham in the semi-final.
Despite winning the first leg, the Rams lost 2-1 on aggregate. Shortly after this defeat, Rowett chose to leave and join newly-relegated Stoke City. When he faced Derby as Potters boss for the first time at the Bet365 Stadium in November 2018, dozens of inflatable snakes were visible in the away section, as the Rams fans made their opinions of their former player and manager very clear.
Rowett has revealed that Ben Thompson and Aiden O’Brien are doubts for this game, with both players carrying small strains. Additionally, loan striker Mason Bennett is unavailable for selection as Derby are his parent club. Jed Wallace had been considered a doubt, but the influential winger took part in a friendly against Colchester United last week, meaning he is expected to be ready for the visit of the Rams.
Meanwhile, Derby will take an almost fully-fit squad to south London for their first fixture since March 8. The only players out through injury are Krystian Bielik and Jack Marriott. The former is still recovering after tearing his cruciate ligament back in January, while Marriott has recently had surgery to fix a groin problem. It is not yet known if the 25-year-old striker will return before the end of the season.
Millwall’s players are going to have to quickly adjust to playing behind closed doors at The Den if they wish to pile the pressure onto the teams above them. Typically, the Lions’ supporters will try and intimidate the opponents from the stands, something they consistently succeed in doing, but that influence will disappear completely until the end of the season at least.
However, Derby will still approach this game as clear underdogs. The Rams have been poor on the road this term, having tasted victory just three times, and have a battle on their hands if they are to get the better of a very physical Millwall outfit.
Prediction: Millwall 2-0 Derby County
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