Browne 37 Barkhuizen 42 Hughes 81
Cooper 61 Gregory 90+2
BY JAKE SANDERS AT DEEPDALE
Why don’t Millwall perform with the same intensity and urgency from the first whistle when they are on their travels?
For some unknown reason, the Lions are performing much better in the second-half of games on the road this season. The trip to Deepdale was no different.
“If you wanted 90 minutes to sum up our season in a nutshell, that second half is it.”
That was Neil Harris’ verdict on Millwall’s 11th Championship defeat of the season, against Preston North End on Saturday.
He wasn’t wrong. It was a familiar story. We have seen this before – at Sheffield Wednesday, Queens Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest.
And on the basis of the Deepdale display, we will see it again.
In truth, Millwall were rarely troubled in the first half either. They were fairly comfortable in the opening 30 minutes, but switched off twice in quick succession and left themselves facing an uphill battle from then on in.
And those quick-fire goals mean they have now fallen behind in 13 of their last 15 league matches. The 3-0 victory over Ipswich Town and the 4-3 defeat at Norwich City last month are the exceptions and only two of those 13 have ended in victories.
“We’re giving ourselves a mountain to climb all the time because we’re always a goal behind,” the Lions boss said.
But just like so often in recent weeks – and for the majority of games on the road this term – Millwall only sprang to life once the second half got under way.
Jed Wallace, Aiden O’Brien and Steve Morison had all gone close within 15 minutes of the restart, before Jake Cooper did eventually give the Lions a much-needed and deserved lifeline, heading home from half-time substitute Shane Ferguson’s corner.
Goal-line technology was required as Cooper’s effort was cleared off the line before John Brooks awarded the goal.
Cooper and Ryan Leonard simultaneously charged down Paul Gallagher in a bid to retrieve the ball and rush back to the halfway line. The Preston midfielder threw the ball away in anger. The men in orange suddenly believed again. Deepdale held their breath.
It had a feel of Hillsborough in August about it. The hosts were pinned in their own 18-yard box. There were so many chances – at both ends – it was becoming difficult to keep up.
Shaun Hutchinson was a guilty party, heading over from another dangerous Ferguson cross. But it was the opportunity that Gregory squandered on 64 minutes that epitomised their second-half display.
He chased a lost cause – for the umpteenth this season – and beat North End goalkeeper Declan Rudd to the ball. Unfortunately for the frontman, he could only fire wide of the target. It was classic Lee Gregory, though – making something out of nothing.
But the pivotal moment came 20 minutes from time. The dangerous and predictably lively Jed Wallace broke forward and a four-on-three situation developed in Millwall’s favour.
He had Ryan Tunnicliffe and Gregory to his right and O’Brien to his left. He opted to feed the latter and it looked as if the Republic of Ireland international would sidefoot the Lions back on level terms, but his heavy touch allowed Paul Huntington to scramble back and make a crucial block.
Harris couldn’t hide his frustration. He threw his arms up in the air, screaming and shouting in the direction of his bench. It had a ‘how on earth did we not score?’ kind of feeling to it.
The side making all the inroads then conceded. It was another moment that summed up Millwall’s dismal afternoon as Andrew Hughes’ tame free-kick took a wicked deflection and squeezed past a despairing Jordan Archer, despite the Scotsman getting more than a hand to it.
Gregory would have the final say, but it would only benefit his own personal goal tally – which now stands at nine for the season – as it was virtually the last kick of a pulsating game.
The Lions face another tough assignment at Stoke City on Saturday, a side that are unbeaten in their last nine Championship outings.
Millwall were left to ponder on what might have been. And not for the first, or even the second, time in this patience-testing campaign.
Millwall (4-4-2): Archer 4, Romeo 6, Hutchinson 5, Cooper 5, Meredith 4 (Ferguson 46, 7), J Wallace 6, Tunnicliffe 5, Leonard 5 (Elliott 82), O’Brien 5, Morison 5, Gregory 6. Not used: Amos, Webster, M Wallace, McLaughlin, Karacan.