MILLWALL couldn’t recover the damage done by three first-half Preston goals as Ben Thompson’s strike was just a consolation at The Den on Saturday.
Preston were 3-0 up after 27 minutes through Andrew Hughes’ volley, Tom Clarke’s header and Sean Maguire’s clipped finish over Jordan Archer.
A minute after coming on Thompson fired home in the 67th minute from a header across goal by another substitute, Steve Morison.
Thompson had the ball in the net again 10 minutes from time after a frantic period of Millwall attacking, but the linesman had raised his flag for offside.
It was difficult to remember as dishevelled a Millwall performance at The Den in the first half in Neil Harris’ time in charge, certainly since the first few months of 2015-16. It was understandable when there were boos at the half-time whistle from those fans who hadn’t already headed early for the bar.
Set-piece defending was poor, Preston players had so much freedom, and in the bright spring sun Millwall were literally chasing shadows. More than 1,000 away supporters lapped it up.
Tom Elliott made his first start since January 12 but had little impact and was withdrawn at the break. Murray Wallace also departed after a difficult first half when Millwall were exposed on their left flank, among many other areas they were found lacking.
Shane Ferguson and Morison came on at half-time and Millwall improved in the second period, though there was little way they couldn’t.
They attacked relentlessly late on, and had chances, but Preston were dangerous on the break and never looked like they would give up their advantage, despite Thompson briefly giving the hosts hope.
Elliott replaced Ferguson in Millwall’s side as Harris switched to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Jed Wallace and Ben Marshall in the wide midfield positions.
4-4-2: Archer; Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, M Wallace (Ferguson, 46); J Wallace, Leonard (Thompson, 66), Williams, Marshall; Gregory, Elliott (Morison, 46).
The warnings were almost immediately there for Millwall as Preston attacked with clear purpose.
In the second minute Maguire got free in the inside-left channel to cross for Tom Barkhuizen whose effort was cleared off the line by Murray Wallace.
It took Preston just another minute to go ahead, Hughes volleying in after Millwall failed to deal with a free-kick.
The Lions’ set-piece defending was even worse in the 16th minute when they allowed Paul Gallagher’s corner from the right to bounce across the six-yard box and Clarke met the ball on the rise to head in at the back post.
Preston were rampant, Barkhuizen unchecked time and again as the visitors picked him out on the right. Defender Wallace was frazzled, but it would have been unfair to lay the blame only with him.
Thirty-four-year Gallagher in midfield had the run of The Den and it was little surprise when he was involved as Preston made it 3-0. Neither was it a surprise that it was Maguire who provided the finish as he darted in behind the home defence from Gallagher's deft pass to lift the ball over Archer.
Not only was Millwall’s defence in a state of disarray, but whenever they did attack they lost the ball too easily or crossed wildly.
Millwall’s lack of organisation was exposed again when midfielder Brad Potts ran a long way with the ball before seeing a shot blocked on the edge of the box.
Harris reacted to what he had seen before the break by bringing on Morison and Ferguson from the start of the second half. Harris also changed shape, with Morison and Marshall in wide midfield positions and Wallace now playing centrally.
Millwall had little to lose by pushing players forward and Ferguson almost pulled one back when he whizzed a low cross-shot just wide of the far post in the 59th minute.
But it was Preston who almost added a fourth on the break. Ben Pearson aggressively broke up a Lions attack and found Maguire, who played Potts through in the inside-right channel. Potts aimed for the far post forcing Archer into a save low to his right.
Thompson came on for Ryan Leonard in the 66th minute. A minute later Millwall attacked on the left before Marshall’s cross was headed down by Morison, and Thompson blasted in his first-ever Championship goal and first Millwall league goal since April 2016.
Maguire then mis-kicked in front of goal before Thompson thought he had his second, only to be denied by the linesman’s decision when he deemed Mahlon Romeo was offside.
Millwall went close to a second with six minutes left. Ferguson shifted the ball inside to Wallace whose shot was saved by Rudd to the feet of Gregory, but the ball arrived too quickly and went wide off the striker.
Millwall never stopped trying, but their wait for a first league win here in 2019 continues.
Image: Millwall FC