Middlesbrough v Millwall: how to stop Traore

Adama Traore – pesstatsdatabase.com

After Millwall’s 17-game unbeaten run ended with a 3-0 home defeat to Fulham on Friday, their response could define their play-off chances.

There are two possible eventualities: the first is that with leaders like Shaun Hutchinson and Steve Morison in situ, they will respond to that setback with only renewed vigour.

The second though, is that the group of players, who have experienced more of League One than the Premier League, might struggle without the sense of invincibility that unbeaten run brought them.

If nothing else, the defeat brought to light an issue at the Den that has lurked for some time. Culturally, the club is at its most harmonious when fans see high-energy football, which we saw in the first 20 minutes against Fulham. However, Millwall couldn’t sustain their impressive run with the nature of their efforts going somewhat against the grain of modern football. Surprises like this keep everyone their toes for the predictions and updates on the English Championship. If you’re one of those people who are always on the lookout, we suggest that you read more at CrownBet to know the latest odds on your favourite teams this season.

Everyone demands an action-packed game in the field. Think Shaun Williams’ uncompromising challenge that started an attack. Think the powerful running of Jed Wallace and Mahlon Romeo down the right. Think George Saville charging from midfield to press opposing centre-backs, or Ben Marshall swinging in constant crosses for Steve Morison with Lee Gregory running off him. That intensity is what fans want.

Clearly Millwall have been able to sustain it during their impressive run, but the nature of their efforts goes somewhat against the grain of modern football. While an increasing number of Championship sides favour possession football to allow for periods of recuperation, Millwall’s hard-hitting methods put pressure on them to run for 90 minutes.

That mentality though does tend to lead to a strong start; they have scored a first-minute goal in three of their last nine games, with Jake Cooper hitting the bar inside three minutes last time out.

Hosts Middlesbrough must be ready for the storm, having conceded the first goal inside the opening quarter of an hour in three of their last five. Tony Pulis will surely demand an improvement in that regard, although Saturday’s deserved 2-1 win at Derby was a positive start; with the tenacious Muhamed Besic continuing to impress in midfield.

The star performer in that victory though was Adama Traore, who terrorized the opposing left-back, something he has done consistently since becoming a first team regular at the start of 2018. The speedster, who appears to burst forward every time he receives the ball, is at the heart of Middlesbrough’s attacking open play strategy.

Traore’s threat means Lions left-back James Meredith, who is defensively aware but not the quickest, will face more direct one-on-one battles than we saw on Friday and he will need plenty of support from Marshall if he is to keep Traore quiet.

Further forward, Pulis must decide whether to start the in-form Britt Assombalonga up top or the fit-again Patrick Bamford. The latter picked up an injury in the recent 2-1 win over Bristol City, after which the Welsh boss suggested that his side looked better after the striker went off.

In reality, they’re two good strikers, who have scored 26 goals between them in all competitions; the fact Pulis can replace one with the other in case of injury, Harris points out, is the sign of a club with a huge financial advantage.

That didn’t count for much in the reverse fixture, which Millwall dominated in a 3-1 win; one of the results that built confidence they could compete with the best.

We reckon Boro have improved since their last meeting though: if they can weather the early storm, Pulis’ troops could be capable of inflict on their visitors back-to-back defeats for the first time since November.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1