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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 44 vs. Millwall

Will anyone’s unbeaten run come to an end?

Hull City v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

One minute.

That’s how much more time Fulham needed to see the game through against the most underrated team in the Championship in Brentford and they would have stayed second in the league. Granted, we all knew Cardiff had a game in hand, but after last week’s result, we have give the ball is now in their court instead of ours, so to speak. “I just want to go home and cry” shouted Jamie Reid moments after the final whistle. I guarantee you will never hear that level of honesty in sports radio commentary at a professional setting in the United States, let alone England. That’s how painful a DRAW was. But what if I told you Fulham didn’t deserve all three points?

After all, Brentford previously had a disallowed goal that was deemed offside even though replays showed Tim Ream kept Ollie Watkins on side. Another potential Brentford goal was not awarded via the penalty spot despite a almost deliberate ball by Stefan Johansen off of a laser of a free kick by Yoann Barbet. If for anything else, the Bees should have scored at least once in the first half.

While the second half was much better by Fulham, it wasn’t enough to look like the bestter side for the entire 90 minutes of play. By games end, the good guys were out-shot 17-11 and only had 48.8% possession of the ball. It should come as no surprise to see Brentford having the expected goals advantage of 1.4-0.8 as a result, according to Ben Mayhew of Experimental361. As mentioned all season, if this team were to ever get their shooting boots on, Brentford would be one of the best clubs in the Championship. They finally are playing like one, but they may not have enough time to put such a marker for them to make it into the top six.

No matter how this is spun, however, Fulham and their fan base can not afford to be sitting in a pit of misery for too long. Tonight’s opponents are in the thick of a playoff race that sees just four points separate fifth and 11th. With a win at home, Millwall will not only take a further step towards playing more football after 46 games, but they could be a matchup nightmare towards anyone the likes of which Reading were last season.

Simply put, no one expected the Lions to be this good this early after they were promoted from League One via the playoffs. They still play an “English” 4-4-2 system where fullbacks stay back, wingers cross the ball and center forwards collect and shoot. They also have George Saville as their go-to engine in center midfield and can really carry an attack when necessary. Lastly, they too are on an unbeaten run that almost no one saw coming, including the data.

Consider that up until February 3rd, Millwall were practically in line with their miniscule actual and expected goal differential of +2. Since then, despite expected to being outscored 17.4-21.8 over the past 12 fixtures, they have actually outscored the opposition 19-6 with six clean sheets to boot! Now Fulham have been going on the same vein of form during their unbeaten run. Since January 11th, the club have outscored the competition 33-8 in 17 fixtures and seven clean sheets despite being expected to only outscore the opposition 25.1-14.5. Again, the best football clubs make do with the luck that is given to them, but some of these bits of data are outrageous! Fulham really need to be able to dictate the tempo of this game and be mentally tough in one of the most battle hardened venues of English football. Otherwise, we might be talking about a club that could be losing confidence coming into the playoffs.

But enough of that type of thinking. Let’s take a look at the three most important players to watch from Millwall.

Shaun Hutchinson

All data from whoscored.com

First up is a player Fulham fans will be quite familiar with. Now at 27, Shaun Hutchinson has gone from being a player that never was going to be able to suit Fulham if they were to be promoted to a key figure in Millwall’s aspirations towards reaching the Premier League. As shown from his radar, he hasn’t really changed his game all that much, so you know what you will get out of him. That doesn’t mean Fulham can take him lightly either. Of all the defensive attributes, shot blocking is clearly his biggest strength. Attacking the Motherwell Academy product with speed will be crucial to have their chances at goal count against him.

Jed Wallace

All data from whoscored.com

Since we talked about George Saville the last time Millwall was previewed, let’s go ahead and take a look at their next best influential player on both sides of the pitch. With six goals and nine goals into his account this season, no other Millwall player contributes more in scoring or creates more chances for his teammates to score goals better than Jed Wallace.

At 24, he is hitting the peak of his powers surely must be happy to have the opportunity to make his mark in the Championship after not being able to do so in his previous stint with Wolves. Before hand, Wallace was an academy product with Portsmouth where he did his best to help the club during their lean years. But after putting in 17 goals in all competitions in 50 appearances, Wallace gave it a go in the Championship before Wolves shipped him out to Millwall in both years of his two-year spell with the club. Needless to say, Wallace and Millwall are happy to have crossed paths.

Jordan Archer

Lastly, no club can get in a season-long run of good defense without a strong goalkeeper. This is especially considering that Millwall have recently been expected to be outscored all season, but have instead have a +15 actual goal differential. Along with that, Millwall have only given up the joint third best goals against tally in the league with 40. This is considering that Millwall are only 12th best in total shots against and ninth best in shots on target against.

With those in front of him giving such a challenge, Jordan Archer has handled it well and more all campaign long. You will be hard pressed to not only find a goalkeeper that has saved better than 76.5% of his shots faced, but also been able to complete more than 37.8% of his long ball passes. He won’t even dare be the sweeper keeper that you see most modern versions do these days as only 3.1% of his attempted passes have been deemed short ones. However, he is the embodiement to Millwall’s identity and how they would like to play. At 24, I will be expected more from Archer for seasons to come as well as many more Scotland call ups for him.