BY JAKE SANDERS
Jed Wallace’s first-half strike was enough to ensure Millwall got their Championship campaign up and running with a victory over Preston North End.
The Lions midfielder coolly swept home from Connor Mahoney’s cross just after the half-hour mark to give Neil Harris his 100th win in charge of Millwall.
Harris named four of his nine summer signings in his starting line-up in the shape of Frank Fielding, Alex Pearce, Mahoney and Matt Smith, whilst goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson were among the Lions substitutes.
But it was one of their usual suspects, Wallace, that almost put his side in front inside the opening two minutes. A Shaun Williams corner was only half-cleared and Wallace got hold of a half-volley from 25-yards, forcing Declan Rudd into a diving save at the expense of a corner.
The fast intensity to the game continued at the other end and had it not been for a vital header away from danger from Matt Smith, Alan Browne’s powerful strike from just outside the box would have flown past Fielding to give Preston an early advantage.
Smith then wanted a penalty just after the 20-minute mark, but his faint appeals were waved away by Stephen Martin before Jake Cooper tested Rudd, but the Preston goalkeeper saved comfortably this time.
Up the other end, Mahlon Romeo had his pocket picked by Sean Maguire when he was the final line of defence before Fielding, but the Lions right-back used his blistering pace to race back before making a last-ditch tackle to prevent the Preston midfielder from getting his shot away from just inside the box.
But despite the visitors enjoying large spells of possession, Millwall looked the more dangerous and took a 33rd minute courtesy of Wallace’s first goal since February. Mahoney, who had been quite up until then, worked the space before picking out his fellow winger, who first-time volleyed past Rudd, who should have kept it out, but could only parry his left-footed effort into the side netting.
Millwall’s half then took a turn for the worse as Fielding, who had been a spectator in the opening 42 minutes, injured himself whilst taking a goal-kick and had to be replaced by another debutant, Bialkowski, who only joined on a season-long loan deal from Ipswich Town earlier this week.
Bialkowski’s first involvement was almost to pick the ball out of his own net, but Maguire’s effort on the stroke of half-time whistled past the post.
Andrew Hughes was booked early in the second-half for bringing down Smith, although Mahoney could only curl over from the resulting free-kick. The Preston defender was then lucky to escape a second yellow as he pulled down Romeo seconds later, but referee Martin gave him his final warning.
Preston applied plenty of late pressure but Bialkowski wasn’t forced into a save all afternoon and despite some late hairy moments, Millwall collected their first opening-day victory since they were promoted back to the Championship in 2017.
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS