MILLWALL won on the opening day for the first time since 2016-17 as they got their Championship campaign off to an ideal start and banished some of the bad memories of last season.
Jed Wallace put Millwall in front in the 33rd minute from Connor Mahoney’s cross from the left, and the hosts rarely looked like surrendering that lead.
Declan Rudd had tipped over Wallace’s half-volley in the third minute before Preston earned a series of corners and Matt Smith headed Alan Browne’s shot off the line.
After Smith and Ben Thompson had penalty claims ignored, Mahlon Romeo’s brilliant dispossession of Sean Maguire in the box denied the striker as he was about to shoot.
There was a blow for Millwall when Frank Fielding limped off in the 43rd minute. Bartosz Bialkowski came on for his debut and watched Maguire’s shot go just wide of his left-hand post late in the half.
Millwall felt aggrieved early in the second half. Andrew Hughes had just been booked for fouling Wallace when he took out Romeo. The home fans howled for a second yellow but referee Stephen Martin kept his cards in his pocket. Jake Cooper couldn’t believe it, and from Mahoney’s free-kick was left even more perplexed when he was certain he had been pulled down in the box only for Martin to give Preston a free-kick.
There was nearly some late drama as Maguire went down under Cooper's challenge in the six-yard box, but Martin again was unmoved. The Lions didn’t need another goal, the only negative that injury to Fielding.
Early days for Millwall but promising signs
Millwall were 3-0 down to Preston after 27 minutes of this fixture last February as relegation threatened the hosts.
Only four of the line-up at Wigan on the last day of last season started here. Preston had 10 of the same starters from February, so there was always the danger they would be the more cohesive side and start similarly to last season.
But Millwall were aware of the threat of the visitors and players like Maguire and apart from a couple of hairy moments in the first half Fielding and then Bialkowski weren’t threatened.
Bialkowski stayed out at half-time to warm up with goalkeeping coach Lee Turner, and that was more action than he saw for the majority of the second half.
The wining goal was really well-worked, Thompson showing excellent skill in midfield to make space and find Mahoney for the cross.
Millwall’s bench looks so much stronger than a year ago. Ryan Leonard came on for Aiden O’Brien in the second half pushing Thompson further forward. Tom Bradshaw then replaced Smith, who lapped up the applause from the home fans as he went off.
Murray Wallace stakes his claim
There was some uncertainly over who would be left-back in the first team of the season. Wallace got the nod over Shane Ferguson and impressed.
He was tenacious when he needed to be, at one point pressing Tom Barkhuizen back and when Preston were forced to go all the way back to Declan Rudd the home fans showed their appreciation for the left-back.
Wallace also showed his attacking promise in the first half when he delivered an excellent cross towards Smith that Hughes spectacularly hooked away from six yards out.
Barkhuizen can be a tricky player, and he stayed as wide as possible to try to get at Wallace. But such was the Scottish defender’s success in that duel that Barkhuizen was withdrawn in the 55th minute.
Millwall could be forced back into transfer market
Fielding, Mahoney and Smith all made their full debuts, before Bialkowski, signed on Tuesday, came on in goal.
It didn’t look good for Fielding, who injured himself taking a goal kick. Even if it’s only a few weeks out, Harris surely won’t want to risk having only Bialkowski and Ryan Sandford, who hasn’t played a senior competitive game, as his only options.
Fielding had looked steady in his short time on the pitch, decisively coming out to punch one cross away and then catching one ball on his line from a dangerous Paul Gallagher free-kick.
Millwall had a large number of goalkeepers on their wish-list this summer, and the recruitment department could be busy early next week revisiting some of them.
Millwall: 4-4-1-1: Fielding (Bialkowski, 43); Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, M Wallace; J Wallace, Thompson, Williams, Mahoney; O’Brien (Leonard, 69); Smith (Bradshaw, 77).
Subs: Hutchinson, Ferguson, Leonard, Bodvarsson, Skalak.
Image: Millwall FC