By Chris Brereton
MILLWALL rolled up their sleeves and left Championship high-flyers Preston with a hard-earned point after a brilliantly battling afternoon at Deepdale.
The match was no classic but the way the Lions got stuck in and frustrated Preston proved again that there is plenty of heart in Neil Harris’ squad and few draws on the road this season will impress him more than this one.
It was not a day for quality or flair, it was a day for a strong back-four, a committed midfield and plenty of running and while Millwall looked drab in attack, they were superbly united in their quest to keep a clean sheet.
An unchanged Millwall side saw them stick with Fred Onyedinma and Steve Morison up front as Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott missed out due to respective suspension and injury issues.
Aiden O’Brien’s goal halfway through the second half last Saturday gave Millwall just their second Championship victory of the season but they knew their trip to Lancashire was fraught with danger.
Preston started this match fourth in the Championship, they had lost one in eight and at both ends of the field they have been red-hot recently, conceding only three goals all season whilst netting six times in their last two matches alone.
But those stats meant little against a Millwall side that fought from start to finish.
The home side started the match as the brighter side but although they had more possession, genuine moments of alarm for Millwall were few and far between.
Byron Webster and Shaun Hutchinson knew they were in for a long afternoon as Tom Barkhuizen, Sean Maguire and the highly-rated Jordan Hugill tried to probe Millwall’s backline but there was no way through.
After 10 minutes, George Saville had a decent effort from the edge of the box saved by Chris Maxwell before Morison wasted the rebound, smashing miles wide.
Five minutes later, Jordan Archer did well to palm a Barkhuizen shot around the post during a match that was becoming increasingly niggly and tense, summed up by Conor McLaughlin’s crunching tackle on Josh Harrop that saw him somehow escape a booking.
As the half-hour mark approached, Preston seemed to find another gear and Onyedinma remained the Lions only real outlet.
A set-piece felt like Millwall’s best option but one Shaun Williams free-kick was wasted after 35 minutes for a foul on Maxwell, and referee Darren Bond was far too keen on the sound of his own voice and whistle as the game flattened out.
Just before the interval, Maguire squandered a great chance for Preston after finding a chink in Millwall’s armour as he blasted wide from only eight yards out.
After the break, Preston again saw more of the ball as Millwall looked desperate to hang in. McLaughlin cleared one Harrop effort just inches from the goal-line while Barkhuizen continued to tussle with Webster and Hutchinson.
The Lions' commitment and strength at the back was the hallmark of their afternoon and with eight men regularly behind the ball, Harris’ side looked increasingly fired up.
Going forward, Millwall did not offer their travelling support much to cheer about as Morison and Shane Ferguson – who replaced Odenyinma after 55 minutes – saw little of the ball.
But they, along with everybody else dressed in black, ran themselves into the ground in search of a positive result.
Savile went close for Millwall but his flicked volley from six yards out following good build-up play from Williams ended up going over the crossbar.
The pressure mounted at the other end during the final stages as Preston pushed harder and harder for a winner but, again, Millwall stood firm.
One Lions shout for a penalty when a Jed Wallace effort was blocked in the box was waved away but most of the action was at the other end yet Webster, Hutchinson, McLaughlin and Archer all proved unbeatable.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Hugill, Harrop (Browne 60), Johnson (Robinson 82), Fisher, Welsh, Davies, Huntington, Maguire, Barkhuizen (Mavidid 69), Earl.
Subs: Hudson, Woods, Spurr, Horgan
Millwall: Archer, McLaughlin, Webster, Hutchinson, Meredith, O’Brien (Tunnicliffe 85), Williams, Saville, Wallace (Romeo 90+3), Onyedinma (Ferguson 55), Morison.
Subs: Martin, Craig, Cooper, Twardek.
Referee: Darren Bond
ATT: 12,363 (574 Millwall)
Image: Millwall FC