Dave Seddon's Deepdale verdict

Preston endured probably their most frustrating day at the office under Alex Neil, which was a sign of the progress made in his time in charge and indeed the rise in expectation levels.

Sunday, 24th September 2017, 3:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 24th September 2017, 3:30 pm
North End's Josh Harrop misses from close range

After victories over Cardiff and Birmingham, there was a confidence they could deliver a third against a Millwall team who are not strong travellers.

Sometimes things do not go to plan, this an occasion when the North End side we have started to get used to with Neil at the helm were not quite themselves.

Millwall came with a gameplan, stuck to it well and went back to South London with a point you could not begrudge them.

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The visitors’ contribution to the attacking side of the contest was small. However, their organisation and ability to frustrate Neil’s men they got spot on.

North End, who at times looked a touch jaded, huffed and puffed but could not find the goal needed for victory.

When on two occasions they got in behind the Lions back four, they fluffed their lines – Josh Harrop no doubt still troubled today how he did not score in the second half.

Whatever they tried did not quite come off, that touch of quality and devilment seen of late, missing this time.

Even Neil’s substitutions did not have the desired effect 
– it was one of those days when nothing quite sparked.

Now, this was not a disaster by any stretch, another clean sheet recorded and another point put on the board.

But what gnawed away was a feeling that this was a chance missed.

Even taking into account how resolute Millwall were, these are games which need to be won.

Post-match, Neil said just that, his ambitions this term to have Preston challenging high in the table.

The ability to turn draws like this into wins, would help that cause immeasurably.

Saturday was the first time PNE have failed to score in front of the Deepdale faithful this season.

In fact you have to go back to November 19 last year to find their last blank at home, in a goalless draw with Wolves.

Had they been able to breach the Millwall back-line, it would have been the 20th home match running in which they had scored.

Unfortunately they stalled on 19 and that cost them two points.

Neil was in no doubt this was a case of points dropped rather than one won.

“It was a home game which we wanted to win,” said Neil. “You could see with our line-up that we went really aggressive and wanted to win the game.

“I would argue that most of our attacking technical players were on the pitch, in terms of who I think can win games with their form.

“It didn’t really work that way, when we hit the ball forward we didn’t have enough quality.

“I thought both defences got the better of the attacking players.”

There will be more sides who come to Deepdale and get men behind the ball, be happy to eke out a draw.

With that in mind, Neil will be looking for more of what PNE produced when beating Cardiff and Birmingham, rather than this laboured performance.

What did not help this game as a spectacle, was the whistle-happy manner of 
referee Darren Bond.

I am not laying any blame at his door for the result, but my word, the Wigan whistler was neither use nor ornament when it came to the entertainment.

Play was frequently stopped by Mr Bond, who blew-up for 34 fouls in what I felt was a competitive but far from dirty clash.

Neil had chosen to make two changes to the side which had triumphed the week before at Birmingham.

Back came Darnell Fisher after injury to replace Calum Wood in the right-back position – not a surprise due to the way Fisher had started his time with Preston.

John Welsh was chosen ahead of Alan Browne, who had been very good down at St Andrews.

It seemed a case of Welsh being able to add a touch more steel to the midfield to help cope with Millwall.

His role was one which Neil was ready to sacrifice later in the game in favour of a more attacking player, only for him to be forced into changing his mind.

Said Neil: “If we had been right on top of the game, I would have taken John off and thrown caution to the wind.

“For the last 20 minutes John probably became more vital for us, certainly when they counter-attacked and he had to break things up which could have potentially hurt us.

“My first response is to be really aggressive and put very attacking subs on.

“But I had a nagging doubt about the lack of quality of quality we were showing at the top end of the pitch.

“That meant we were much more likely to give the ball away and allow Millwall to break on us.

“I had John ready to come off but the game flipped on its head for five minutes or so and I couldn’t take the gamble of him coming off.”

Welsh putting a foot in and keeping things simple,helped with the clean sheet – a sixth of the season. Rarely was Chris Maxwell threatened, his one save of the afternoon coming early on when parrying away a shot from George Saville.

The back four performed strongly as a unit, skipper Paul Huntington and Ben Davies safe and solid. Davies put in a particularly strong shift and is flourishing under Neil.

At the other end of the pitch, the two chances which should have been tucked away came just before half-time and then a few minutes after it.

Daniel Johnson slid a pass down the left-hand side of the box for Sean Maguire to latch on to in the 45th minute.

The angle was narrow but he tried his luck with a shot which found the side-netting.

With the second half eight minutes old, Tom Barkhuizen exchanged passes with DJ.

Collecting the return pass behind the Millwall back-line, his cross looked to have given Harrop a simple tap-in as he slid in at the far post.

But the ball stuck under his out-stretched left leg and was then hacked clear.