Not a game that was high on entertainment value as North End and Millwall fought out a largely forgettable 0-0 draw at Deepdale in front of 12,363.
Millwall came to be strong and resolute and that is exactly what they were, often bullying North End off the ball and if Saturday’s game had any learning points in it they were to the younger players in how to deal with big physical teams. That’s not a criticism of the Lions, it is just that from time to time we will come up against teams like this and to be quite honest we didn’t handle that side of the game very well. We had one golden opportunity in the second half but Josh Harrop couldn’t get the ball over the line after an excellent move down the right-hand side and a cross from Barkhuizen. We started the second half in a more positive frame of mind, just has we had done at Birmingham last week, but we really couldn’t get any speed into our movement from midfield and the two lines of four that Millwall set up were becoming increasingly more difficult to break down as North End started to run out of ideas. Once Harrop’s chance had been and gone we managed to get a few good balls across the Millwall defence but they were always met by the two big centre-backs who bundled our forwards, and particularly Hugill, off the ball all afternoon. With the amount of draws in the section there wasn’t too much harm done and North End still lie in the play off places after nine games and that is certainly something we were not really expecting at the start of August. We have still only conceded three goals and so as we reflect on probably two points lost, we must keep the bigger picture at the front of our minds. On Saturday we only drew because we didn’t match Millwall physically and our movement forward from midfield was too slow. You can’t win them all and Alex Neil and his boys must take the lessons learnt from this game and make sure that when we come up against big, strong, physical teams that we become better at matching them on and off the ball and make sure we break quicker from midfield. Now having said all that I have to say that all in all it’s been a very good first nine league games and long may it continue on Tuesday, at Hull, and at home next Saturday, against Sunderland.
The stalemate with Millwall kept us handily placed in the league table but in all honesty it was a game that will not live long in the memory of the majority of the home fans who had entered the stadium with an air of expectancy and had anticipated a home win prior to kick-off. In the last two games we had scored six goals and seen a three-pronged swashbuckling style of attack containing Hugill Maguire and Barkhuizen, supported by the industrious Harrop, do an explosive job in blowing away the opposition. However on Saturday we never really looked like lighting the fuse of the stick of dynamite to blow down the steel doors of a well organised away defence. My man of the match was Darnell Fisher who was very much involved in the thick of the action, closely followed by John Welsh who had another outstanding game as the holding midfielder. I thought the atmosphere was a little flat, although there was not much to get over-excited about on the pitch to lift the crowd. lt could have been so different had Josh Harrop connected at the back post and finished off our best chance of the day . The free-flowing move which created the missed oppurtunity was reminiscent of Paul Gascoigne’s agonising miss against Germany in the Euro ’96 semi-final. Throughout the game we were made well aware that the referees whistle did actually contain a pea and it was used so often he could probably have whistled along to the whole of the song Don’t Worry Be Happy by the end of the game. We still remain in the top six after keeping another clean sheet and extending our unbeaten run to six games so most of us like the referee will still be able to whistle at work today.
A disappointing match and result, with North End unable to produce the form shown against Cardiff and in the second half at Birmingham. Having said that, at least the hosts edged the game overall and added another clean sheet to the previous five of the nine played so far this season. Millwall proved to be a stubborn opponent, as you would expect from any side managed by Neil Harris, and could have nicked it late on in a counter-attack that briefly saw them with a man over as they moved into the hosts’ penalty area. That would have been a cruel and underserved blow, but this is football and we all know it happens. At least the second half livened up a bit as the Lilywhites tried to push more men forward in a bid to win the game. This created the one clear-cut chance that should have seen the classic 1-0 type of victory you need when not at your best. It flowed from a defence splitting pass by Daniel Johnson down the right-hand side of the penalty area and subsequent cross by Tom Barkhuizen along the front of an open goal. All it needed was contact – and as Josh Harrop slid in we all jumped to our feet expecting the inevitable. Somehow he got the ball trapped under his out-stretched leg and the chance was gone. Still, let’s not get too downhearted as we have had a good start to the season with a team containing some inexperienced players and, given the tough hand dealt in terms of fixtures, a points tally we would all have taken before that first ball was kicked in August.