Dave Seddon's verdict: Millwall 2 Preston North End 1 - No capital gains for PNE after late error lets in the Lions
Two pieces of quality finishing should have been the story of an otherwise poor game played on a rough pitch.
However, a late Preston North End error and a Millwall winner ended up being the tale of the tape.
Ched Evans lit up The Den early doors with a stunning volley from outside the box.
Equally as good was the finish from Scott Malone to bring the Lions level.
Other than that there was little to catch the eye, both sides choosing to launch the ball at one another, something the hosts did better.
And so we reached the last four minutes, all North End needing to do was see out the closing stages in order to take a hard-fought point.
That is when it all went wrong, Ryan Woods given the space in midfield to turn the ball behind the PNE defence.
Mason Bennett got beyond Jordan Storey as he ran into the box to try and connect.
He was second favourite to reach it, however goalkeeper Daniel Iversen hesitated slightly and that gave Bennett a vital moment to loop a header over him into the net.
It was only the second time this season that Preston had been left empty-handed after taking the lead, Barnsley away before Christmas the other occasion.
You’d say on the balance of the second-half play, if anyone was going to win the game and deserved to, it was Millwall.
They weren’t great, though – it was very much a battle of attrition rather than anything pretty on the eye.
Alex Neil was raging after the game, annoyed and frustrated that there had not been a single capital gain from this visit to South Bermondsey.
They had fared well in their previous two visits to London this season, winning against Brentford and QPR.
In Neil’s eyes, PNE should have got a point, been thankful for it and come home.
What annoyed him was the contrast in quality in the way the teams had ‘turned’ the ball forward.
Millwall did it effectively, dropping long balls down the channels to get North End facing their own goal.
Going the other way, the ball was falling too short, meaning Evans was getting it with his back to goal and in the company of three defenders.
Neil wanted the striker to get the chance to chase the ball behind that back three rather than having to do his work in front of them.
The consequence was that they created little of note as the game went on, while Millwall grew more dangerous.
It brought to an end their little spark of form in which they had taken four points from two home games.
What will have frustrated Neil further was a glance at Millwall’s home record.
Ten teams had gone to SE16 this season and come away with a draw.
Gary Rowett’s men clearly had a problem seeing off teams on home turf.
PNE were minutes away from being the 11th to claim a draw, only for that routine ball forward to undo them.
This was their first visit to The Den behind closed doors, the previous one being on the opening day of the 2019/20 season when Covid-19 wasn’t even a thing.
It’s a venue where the atmosphere plays a big part and looking at Millwall’s home record, they are a side who miss their fans.
Preston ventured there without skipper Alan Browne who was injured, Jayson Molumby restored to midfield. On the bench was Lewis Leigh, a first-year scholar, a Preston boy and PNE fan.
Molumby, playing against the side he spent last season on loan with, had a hand in PNE’s opener, cutting out a Millwall pass in midfield and setting Scott Sinclair free down the right.
Sinclair’s cross looked to find either Anthony Gordon or Brad Potts on the edge of the box.
George Evans’ clearing header dropped as far as Evans who volleyed home from the edge of the ‘D’.
Malone was given too much room to stride up the pitch before finding the top corner with a superb shot from 25 yards for the hosts’ equaliser.
Bennett hit the top of the bar from close range in the 67th minute but was to make up for that miss with his late winner.
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