Millwall 1-3 Preston North End: Dave Seddon's verdict as upwardly mobile Lilywhites continue march up Championship table

Andrew Hughes fires home PNE's opener at Millwall on Saturday
Andrew Hughes fires home PNE's opener at Millwall on Saturday

When Preston strolled the last couple of hundred yards of their journey to The Den they surely didn’t envisage walking all over Millwall in the manner they did later on.

A traffic issue saw the PNE players leave their bus on the road leading to the ground and complete the trip on foot.

Referee Steve Martin comes between Jed Wallace and Tom Clarke

Referee Steve Martin comes between Jed Wallace and Tom Clarke

It was Alex Neil who led his squad into the Lions’ den and then watched on with pride as North End played a fearless 45 minutes of football.

In that first half they hit three goals without reply and could have had more.

The booing at half-time from a demanding home crowd told you everything.

Although Neil’s men did not have it all their own way in the second half and indeed shipped a goal, it proved just a dent and no real damage was done by Millwall.

More than 1,000 PNE fans made the trip to The Den

More than 1,000 PNE fans made the trip to The Den

This was their fourth away win on the bounce, something of a stats–equalling feat.

The last time Preston had done likewise was in their League One days – back in the autumn of 2013 they won at Gillingham, Notts County, Leyton Orient and Port Vale.

At this equivalent level of football, the last sequence of four away wins came during the 1950/51 season – they went on to win eight on the spin.

Four in a row was done in the First Division nine years later in 1959, with Arsenal, Blackpool, Fulham and Luton all beaten.

Alex Neil and the North End bench look on during a fourth straight away win

Alex Neil and the North End bench look on during a fourth straight away win

Back to the present, this win in South Bermondsey was a continuation of North End’s upturn in form over the last month-and-a-half.

Seven weeks ago, they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Doncaster.

It was only on November 10 that their first league away win was recorded – now they have six.

Is this really the same club which on October 2 propped up the Championship?

They have risen from 24th to 10th, the talk now of making a run for the play-offs.

A tall order that might be but you are not telling me there aren’t a few clubs above them casting an anxious look over their shoulders at Neil’s upwardly mobile side.

PNE blew Millwall away in 27 minutes, that the time it took Andrew Hughes, Tom Clarke and Sean Maguire to all find the net.

Not since Wembley in 2015 had they been as clinical in the first half on a day out from Deepdale as they were in South London.

Paul Gallagher was the common denominator in all three goals.

His set-piece delivery led to the first two, before saving his best for last.

His skill in taking some of the weight off a loose ball and at the same time playing in Maguire was quite sublime.

On a day when there were quite a few choices for starman, it simply had to be Gallagher.

Only when Millwall started to gallop speedster Mahlon Romeo down Gallagher’s side of the pitch did Neil decide it was the right time to give him a breather.

With hindsight, perhaps Neil wished he had done the same with Ben Pearson.

Not in terms of a rest but to protect him from the yellow card which came the way of the midfielder five minutes from time.

The caution for kicking the ball away was Pearson’s 10th of the season and means he will sit out the Bristol City and Blackburn games.

Neil had opted to keep Pearson on to make sure there was no way back into this one for Millwall.

The hosts had been lively either side of their goal in the 67th minute.

A fear for Neil was that if he took Pearson off, would there have been the necessary protection for a lead which earlier had looked so solid?

Pearson’s unnecessary hack of the ball into the stand was the one blot on an otherwise fine afternoon.

There will be time in the days ahead to look at his indiscretion, for now let’s reflect on all that was good on Saturday.

For starters, it delivered a first win on Millwall’s home turf for more than 13 years.

This was a league ‘double’ done too, PNE having beaten Neil Harris’ men 3-2 up here in December.

A real success story of the recent good form has been the subtle shift from 4-2-3-1 into a 4-1-4-1 system.

Pearson’s deeper role has given Alan Browne and Brad Potts the freedom to push high and support the striker.

A move to a wider role on the left for Gallagher has not stunted his creativity.

He has still been able to start the ball rolling on moves from there, just as he did when playing centrally.

At the back, the defensive partnership of Jordan Storey and Ben Davies has been in tandem since QPR last month.

Storey in particular was most impressive here and can now boast his own song.

For spells on Saturday, the well lubricated voices of the 1,016-strong away following belted out ‘What’s the Storey, Jordan Storey’.

PNE might have led inside 90 seconds had a shot from Tom Barkhuizen not struck Murray Wallace in the chest two yards from goal.

However, it was merely a brief hold-up to the visitors going in front.

Gallagher lifted a free-kick into the box which Storey and Romeo competed for.

The ball dropped into the path of Hughes who attempted to hit it with his left foot before swivelling and striking a fine right-footed volley into the net for a fourth goal in a PNE shirt.

It was his fellow full-back Clarke, playing instead of the injured Darnell Fisher, who doubled the advantage in the 16th minute.

Gallagher’s corner from the right travelled across the box, bounced off the turf and Clarke steered home a header at the far post.

The third goal was not long in coming, Clarke winning a tackle which saw the ball spin up into the air.

Gallagher got there first and knocked a delightful ball through the home defence.

Maguire darted forward to chase and lift it first-time over keeper Jordan Archer as he spread himself.

Preston couldn’t match the heights of the first half in the second but got the job done.

The home side pulled one back in the 67th minute, their three subs all involved.

Shane Ferguson’s cross to the far post was met by Steve Morison who headed back for Ben Thompson to shoot in.