Saturday will see Gary Rowett host his former employers, just nine months after being dismissed with Stoke 14th following eight wins in 26 league matches last season. Things have changed drastically since then…
In stark contrast, the Potters are second bottom in half the time to start this term: having won two of their last three games with no victories in ten previous matches. Pressure has eased slightly on under-fire Nathan Jones, though the Welshman is aware of a pressing need to continuously improve upon dismal results.
That’s easier said than done, with promotion-chasing Millwall buoyed by Rowett’s appointment earlier this week. Having sought advice from predecessor Neil Harris, the 45-year-old has demanded his new side adopt ‘a Premier League mentality’ while quietly relishing an opportunity for bragging rights against a vulnerable Stoke – who find themselves in worse shape than January when he was sacked.
”I am realistic that we want to build properly, but the aim is to get into the Premier League. You have to have that mentality, even if you are in the Championship trying to get out.
That mentality of trying to win every game is going to be important. I believe the team is capable of more, we will be working to bring a bit of success to the club.”
Stoke’s 1-0 away defeat by third-placed Sheffield Wednesday midweek seemed inevitable, as they crashed back to reality after morale-boosting victories over Swansea and Fulham – sandwiched between an international break.
Millwall haven’t kept a clean sheet for eleven games, since a coincidental 1-0 win of their own against Sheff. Wed on August 17. That’s likely to continue this weekend against a motivated Stoke attack, who boast experienced forward Lee Gregory after departing the Den on a free transfer this summer.
After their 2-2 draw with Cardiff, centre-back Shaun Hutchinson warned against complacency as Stoke have something to prove and face a Millwall backline that haven’t impressed this season either.
”We all know his strengths: he’s a great runner, team player and he’ll be a handful here. It will be a fixture for him where he’ll want to have a good game. We’ll look at the video and have a good game plan.”
“We were solid and kept a lot of clean sheets [under Harris]. We went away from that – a few late and early goals. It’s probably something he [Rowett] will address, as a team we aren’t happy about it and are aware of that – we’re trying to solve that.”
Injury doubts and perspective
Stoke have injuries and rotation to worry about this weekend, with three players described as doubtful after respective knocks.
Cameron Carter-Vickers (knee), Peter Etebo and Tom Edwards (both muscle) could face late fitness tests while centre-back Bruno Martins Indi returned to training this week having missed their defeat with illness. Club captain Ryan Shawcross (ankle) is their only long-term absentee, but has recently returned to a light workload.
Reflecting upon the fact that small margins decide games, assistant manager Paul Hart described the league as an unforgiving one after another frustrating defeat last time out.
“After two extremely good performances backed up with wins, it was a little disappointing but players have set the bar now and know where it is. We were a little unfortunate to come away with nothing on Tuesday, it’s unforgiving.
Everybody says it, not just me, but it’s the toughest division of all four in terms of physicality and the amount of games you play in quick succession. But that’s what it is, we knew what it was before we started and we have to deal with it.”
They’ll be hoping to deal with things better than they have done so far this term, against a defiant Millwall side who have lost just once at home since April.
The in-form Welshman has netted five goals in his last four games, including a well-taken brace to earn a point against Cardiff in midweek.
Having sustained a season-ending knee ligament injury last November, he worked hard over the summer months to return a more complete forward and is reaping the rewards in his first full campaign under David Livermore.
The Senegal international has proven a rare bright spark this term. A powerful runner with relentless energy, tenacity and impressive defensive qualities, he’s again proven himself an integral player after returning from his AFCON exertions.
Given their injury worries, the 28-year-old may be tasked with more creative freedom in midfield up against an unpredictable Millwall side.
Given their recently relinquished Premier League status, Stoke haven’t regularly faced Millwall in H2H meetings. Nonetheless, they are currently on a nine-match unbeaten run and haven’t lost against the Lions since 2003.
Both sides have struggled defensively and with just three clean sheets in 26 matches between them, they’ve combined to concede 42 goals this season.
Stoke have won two of their last three league games (L1), as many as they had in their previous 28 combined (W2 D13 L13).
Bradshaw’s red-hot form is emphasised by his previous goalscoring record: his last five goals in English league football came over a period of 47 games.