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Everton at Millwall: The Opposition View

We spoke to Lions podcaster Nick Hart ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie at The Den

FA Cup Replay: Everton v Millwall
Tim Cahill scored the winner for Everton against his old club when Millwall last faced the Blues in 2006
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Everton’s FA Cup journey continues with their fourth round tie at Championship side Millwall on Saturday.

The two sides will meet for the first time since January 2006, when the Lions held the Blues to a 1-1 home draw in the third round of the same competition, before Tim Cahill scored the winner for Everton against his old club in the replay.

After finishing eighth last season, Neil Harris’ side have found this campaign tougher so far, and currently sit 19th, six points clear of the bottom three.

They came from behind late on to secure a 2-1 home win over Hull City in round three of the FA Cup, and were denied a win at promotion chasers Middlesbrough last weekend courtesy of an injury-time equaliser.

Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Millwall fan Nick Hart, from the Lions podcast Achtung! Millwall:

RBM: Firstly, despite winning family club of the year as recently as 2017, do you still think the general perception of Millwall fans is unfairly negative?

Nick: Negative? Us? Whatever do you mean? To be absolutely straight with you, Millwall fans are the kind of traditional working-class fans that the game that we love was built on. All clubs used to be like us. Rough and ready some might say, but not me. I have followed the Lions since 1972 and can guarantee you that there are no better fans to have backing you.

There is a famous Millwall quote from an ex-chairman of our club called Reg Burr; he said that we are ‘a convenient coat peg upon which football and society can hang its ills’. That remains as true today as it was when he said it in the 1980s. There is another saying that we have which goes ‘no-one likes us, we don’t care’. So I don’t accept the premise of the question to be blunt.

RBM: With Millwall still not clear of relegation trouble, how high a priority is Saturday’s game to you?

Nick: The FA Cup is a glorious distraction from a rather mundane season in the Championship. Of course, finishing above the relegation places is our main target, but Millwall fans are drama junkies - and we like nothing better than an ‘all guns blazing’ tilt at so-called bigger clubs. So, if we lose against Everton, as the account sheets of the dreary modern game say we should, well, we won’t be broken-hearted.

If we win, then the madhouse of a potential fifth round tie against another big-time outfit (say United, Chelsea or Spurs) will become an all-consuming mania. If we win and draw West Ham, then expect the Brexit debate to be suspended while parliament considers the full implications for the nation’s security of the fixture.

Millwall v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
It has been a difficult season so far for Millwall
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

RBM: Millwall’s season last year only burst into life at about this point, when a 17-game unbeaten run from January to April propelled them from mid-table to the brink of the play-offs.

Have they been considerably worse this campaign, and if so, why?

Nick: Yes, this season has indeed been considerably worse. Mostly because the 17-game run was built on the adrenaline ride of quality players like George Saville (sold to Middlesbrough in August for £8 million), Ben Marshall (signed at some huge wage cost by Norwich in the summer) and the back room influence of Tim Cahill, who joined us on a short-term contract to May.

This season has not ignited in the same way (yet), mainly because we have not signed quality players to replace those we have lost. One caveat, if the home tie versus Everton turns into the kind of apocalyptic atmosphere that inspires a a cup run, then anything is possible. That’s why we love The Den so much; it’s unpredictable and you never know what’s around the next corner.

RBM: Neil Harris is clearly a Millwall legend, as both their record goalscorer and the man who led them back to the Championship two years ago. Do you still have faith in him taking the club forward despite a tougher season so far?

Nick: Yes, Neil Harris is and will always be a Millwall legend. All that you have listed has been achieved on a shoestring budget and making best use of players that would not be out of place in Leagues One or Two. Quite an achievement.

Anyone wanting Harris out needs to understand that Pep Guardiola probably won’t be interested in our wages...

Millwall v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship
Harris played more than 350 times for Millwall and has managed them since 2015
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

RBM: If Everton are to beat Millwall on Saturday, which areas of the pitch should they look to exploit?

Nick: The wings are always key at The Den. If Everton’s wingers can handle the torrent of Anglo-Saxon and sharp comment that will come their way on Saturday evening, they may find our defence can be unlocked with pace.

The experience will certainly add to their understanding of the English language that’s for sure, whatever the result.

RBM: How do you expect Millwall to line up on Saturday? Do you expect Harris to pick a full-strength side?

Nick: It won’t be a full strength side as we are both afflicted with a biblical level of injuries and the replacement players signed are mostly cup-tied. I would expect this line up (which incidentally would still trouble the world’s best, I feel):

Jordan Archer GK - Mahlon Romeo DR - Jake Cooper DC - Sean Hutchinson DC - James Meredith DL - Aiden O’Brien MR - Ryan Leonard MC - Shaun Williams MC - Shane Ferguson ML - Lee Gregory SC - Jed Wallace AMR

There. No need for that spying mission now.

Millwall v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Lee Gregory, Millwall’s top scorer this season, is expected to lead the line on Saturday
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

RBM: Which of Millwall’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Nick: Look for the big, long ball to Jake Cooper at set pieces. Look also for Steve Morison to come out of cryogenic storage about mid-way through the second half if we are chasing the game.

Sadly we won’t be able to bring Cahill in to elbow someone, as he is now playing for the Best Marigold Hotel XI in India.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for the game?

Nick: Logically Everton should have the players, the resources and the tactical nous to win this. Shouldn’t they?

But since when did logic play any part in Millwall life? I think it will be an asylum in the opening phase of the game and we will throw the kitchen sink at Everton.

If we score, The Den will be volcanic. If the Toffees get in front, they will progress.

Our thanks to Nick for his time.