The John Roper column: Players deserve great credit for fightback against the odds

At the end of the day the three points were all that mattered for North End but they did make heavy weather of beating a workmanlike Millwall side 3-2 at Deepdale.

Sunday, 16th December 2018, 1:17 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th December 2018, 2:23 pm
Preston North End's Alan Browne wins a free kick from Millwall's Shaun Hutchinson

At the end of the day the three points were all that mattered for North End but they did make heavy weather of beating a workmanlike Millwall side 3-2 at Deepdale.

Two goals to the good at half-time, North End seemed to ease off a little after the break allowing the Lions back into the game and having a few nervous moments along the way.

All seemed good again when North End went 3-1 up but with Millwall pulling one back very late on we had to see out the last minute to ensure the win which we did with no problems.

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It was a bare bones North End side from an attacking perspective but Millwall are not the worst team in the league and I think that Alex Neil will happy enough with North Ends form and results going into the Xmas period.

North End started off on the front foot and with two changes to the side that started at the City Ground seven days ago. Ben Pearson came in for the injured Brandon Barker and Lukas Nmecha started up front instead of Louis Moult who was ruled out of the game with a “slight niggle”.

North End enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening half hour of the game without ever really threatening to take the lead in the game. However we did eventually get in front when Alan Browne scored from close range after a ball from Paul Gallagher was helped on its way by Nmecha.

A few minutes later North End were two up when Gallagher played a beautiful ball to Tom Barkhuizen in the inside right position and the North End man of the match made no mistake slotting past Archer and sending us in with a comfortable lead at half-time.

As you would expect the visitors came out with a bit more enthusiasm at the start of the second half and the game became much more even as Millwall launched an offensive on the North End goal. Just past the hour mark the visitors had pulled one back when Cooper headed home with the ball going over the line before it was cleared.

Nerves began to show and it took North End a while to get back on an even keel. As time ebbed away the Lions tried to force the issue and the game became much more open. North End earned a free kick on the right just outside the box and Andrew Hughes effort was deflected as the ball bobbled over the line to restore our two goal advantage.

The scoring wasn’t over when Millwall made it 3-2 in the 92nd minute through Gregory but it was no more than a consolation goal as North End saw it out for an excellent three points.So a shaky sort of win for North End but a win nevertheless and a set of stats that are starting to look very decent in a very open Championship.

North End are still 15th after this win but are now in striking distance of the five teams above them and are just 8 points from the Championship play off positions.

We have taken 23 points from the last 12 games which is not far off automatic promotion form and all this with another terrible spate of injuries to key players. Three of our next four games are against teams that are 17th, 18th and 20th in the division.

Maybe I am getting a little to giddy in the run up to the festive period but after the last dozen games the North End recovery is in full swing and some additional support from the boardroom in January might just make a season that looked like a Sow’s Ear into one that could be a Silk Purse.

It certainly isn’t over yet by a long chalk and Alex Neil and the players deserve great credit for this fightback against all the odds.