MILLWALL kick off a crucial seven days at Gresty Road against Crewe having dropped into the relegation zone following the international break.
Crewe haven’t won a game this season but would still go a point above the Lions with a victory.
Ahead of what could be a defining week we look at some of the key questions as Millwall seek to follow up the win against Peterborough with another against Steve Davis’ strugglers.
1. Has Aiden O’Brien earned his chance to start?
The Ireland striker kicked up the performance a level when he came on in the second half in the 2-0 defeat to Chesterfield in the last league game.
He added energy and zest to an unsure Millwall side and epitomised the style Neil Harris had envisioned for his side when he spoke of his approach over the summer.
O’Brien has scored two senior goals in his Millwall career, but a glimpse at his record of more than a goal every two games at underage level for Ireland indicates a player who as well as being able to initiate chances has the natural ability to finish them.
He told Southwark News this week: “With Ireland I was the man up top and there were other people that were being unselfish for me and I was getting all the glory and all the goals, which I know I’m capable of. I know that when I’m in front of goals I’m composed, I’ll put it away.
“If I don’t score the first one I’ll score the second one. I’m a born striker. My record at U21 level with Ireland proves it.
“At the moment I enjoy getting the ball too much outside the box, which is fair enough and good for the team as well when the team need it, but on a personal level I’ve got to try to do both.”
If Harris does hand O’Brien his first league start of the season then Lee Gregory may be the one to miss out. After starting the season positively and scoring the winner against Shrewsbury, he admitted recently that he is not happy with his form.
Steve Morison has not looked altogether comfortable playing on the left and might be reinvigorated by a move to a more central position with O’Brien and Fred Onyedinma in creative support roles.
2. Will there be signs of the work that was done during the 12-day break?
“They are going to want to pass the ball, keep the ball and they're certainly a threat going forward. We have to be mindful of that and respectful to that but we focus on what we are good at and hopefully we have improved in the last eight or nine days of training.”
That was Harris outlining Crewe’s strengths to the Lions’ official website.
Millwall have encountered problems against teams who have been able to keep the ball from them. Against Coventry Tony Mowbray’s side were easily able to craft space for their attacking players with technical and clever movement of the ball in midfield.
Chesterfield came to The Den similarly armed and seconds before Jay O’Shea’s volleyed opener, after Millwall’s defence had half-cleared an initial ball into the box, there was a notable breakdown in the defensive structure with several player uncertain as to who exactly should be closing down the space on Chesterfield’s left.
Crewe are rock bottom, but as they showed against Swindon their confidence is not and, as Harris alluded to, they have not abandoned the coaching blueprint laid down by Dario Gradi.
This is a huge seven days for Millwall with three games against teams in the lower half of the table and there is a sense that if the imbalances of the opening part of the season have not been redressed then competing for a place in the top six will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
3. Can Millwall’s strikers rediscover their goalscoring touch?
None of them have managed to get on the scoresheet since the opening day of the league season.
Since Gregory’s penalty against Shrewsbury that’s a run of almost 400 minutes without a striker finding the target in the league.
In the last 20 games Gregory is Millwall’s top scorer with six goals with Onyedinma and O’Brien next on two goals. That’s not the kind of scoring rate from attacking players that makes for a promotion push.
Strip away goals scored at home and in the last 20 games on the road Gregory is again top of the pile but with just three goals.
This can partly be explained by the absence of searing pace up front. None of Millwall’s current four first-team forwards is blessed with that real speed, the type that gives most defenders no chance of recovering once the forward has managed to breach the defensive line.
Adam Armstrong demonstrated the quality on numerous occasions during Coventry’s 4-0 win at The Den as did, to a less spectacular but no less effective extent, Barnet’s John Akinde in the League Cup first round.
There is still the option of bringing in a forward on loan, or maybe O’Brien will add a missing element with the result there is more activity in the opponent’s box and therefore more opportunities for others to start scoring the goals that could propel the side up the table.