Dave Seddon's big match verdict of Preston's draw at Millwall
The Den is a venue where you need to be up for the battle and be prepared to stick your chest out '“ Callum Robinson did that to the letter.
Robinson chested a cross from Greg Cunningham over the line for Preston’s equaliser against Millwall, giving them a small capital gain rather than the bigger prize of three points which they had travelled to London in search of.
A point shouldn’t be sniffed out though, the hosts strong on their home manor with Leeds, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough all losing there this season.
The 80th minute piece of improvisation from Robinson ensured that another play-off chasing side didn’t go the same way.
When Greg Cunningham drilled a left-wing cross into the six-yard box, Robinson stole ahead of his marker to get on the end of it.
Too low to head it, a bit too high to lift his foot to the ball, he leaned forward and used his chest to find the net from four yards.
The power and direction of Cunningham’s cross meant any touch was going to take the ball in, credit to Robinson for his close-range instinct.
It was a fourth goal of an improving campaign for the front man who has steadily been playing his way into Alex Neil’s plans these last couple of months.
PNE deserved something out of the game despite this not being their best display by any stretch.
In the first half they went for an approach which was based heavily on possession.
But much of their time on the ball was spent in front of a solid Millwall outfit rather than behind them.
Shooting was limited to pot shots from outside the box and the Londoners caught them cold just before half-time with a move which showed a lot more incisiveness.
PNE boss Neil’s stern words during the interval saw them change tack.
And while they were drawn into something of a battle for a spell in the second half, the visitors emerged unscathed to push on and get the equaliser.
There are some games when you get the signs that a team won’t score in a month of Sundays.
But in this one you always felt that the Lilywhites had something up their sleeve.
Robinson scored right in front of the 1,483 travelling supporters housed in the top tier of the stand behind that goal.
Preston fans have always enjoyed their London away days, however the size of this following was impressive.
A day in the capital meant the trains heading home were on the lively side and it was easy to detect the excitement and optimism among many about the next few months for North End.
There has been just one defeat in the last 12 league and cup matches, Neil’s men well beyond the wobble of late autumn which was very much an injury-induced one.
If they can steer clear of the injuries which continue to pop up – Paul Huntington missed out on Saturday because of a tight hamstring – and clear the treatment room, there is a squad there to maintain more than a passing interest in a push for the play-offs.
Neil had to improvise at the back in the absence of Huntington.
Those who arrived in the away end after the line-ups had been announced, still belted out the ‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’ song before realising the back four had a different look.
Tom Clarke partnered Ben Davies in the middle, with Alan Browne asked to fill the right-back role, as he had done in the closing few minutes at Barnsley on Boxing Day.
The other option to play there was Marnick Vermijl.
He was 19th man in the end, that not exactly a big endorsement of his position in the pecking order.
Browne was fine in the right-back role, not looking out place in the least.
Millwall didn’t use that side of the pitch a great deal in a first half when Preston had the lion’s share of the ball.
Their opener came from the opposite side, although it could be argued that scorer Aiden O’Brien was Browne’s man.
However, three players had the chance to stop the cross or intercept it before getting to the winger.
Skipper Clarke revelled in the battle in the middle, much of his football since returning from injury having been at right-back.
He had enjoyed his battle with Adebayo Akinfenwa at Wycombe a week earlier, likewise Saturday’s duel with Steve Morison.
For me, Clarke was North End’s best player on the day, a mention in despatches too for Cunningham and Robinson.
The visitors side showed five changes to the one which started at Wycombe.
Pearson, Davies, Jordan Hugill and Chris Maxwell as expected return after being given a breather.
Tom Barkhuizen, who had been an unused substitute at Wycombe, started on the bench having being laid low by a virus in the week.
In an attempt to get a good foothold in the contest, North End played keep ball in the first half.
Paul Gallagher would drop deep in between the central defenders to get the ball from Maxwell and build play from there.
Some passages of play were very good, but tended to find North End’s front four quite a distance from goal.
Robinson and Billy Bodin had dips from distance, one from Robinson forcing home keeper Jordan Archer into a diving side.
Millwall drew first blood though, finding the net in the 43rd minute.
Morison smartly flicked the ball from a throw-in round the corner of the PNE defence.
Jed Wallace put a low cross into the box which O’Brien tucked first-time into the net from six yards.
Barkhuizen came on for Bodin at the interval, Daryl Horgan and Daniel Johnson following him off the bench as the second half went on.
Neil re-jigged the forward line, Hugill pulling off to the left to escape the attention of the centre-backs.
That got Robinson more central and it paid dividends with 10 minutes left.
Johnson’s pass played in Cunningham on the left, his cross finding Robinson who chested home.