BY JAKE SANDERS
Millwall suffered their biggest home defeat of the season as three goals in the first 27 minutes gave a clinical Preston North End a 3-1 victory at The Den.
Andrew Hughes put the Whites in front after just four minutes, before Tom Clarke doubled their just 12 minutes later. Sean Maguire put the visitors in dreamland by adding a third – and despite an improved second-half display, which included substitute Ben Thompson’s first ever Championship goal, Millwall slipped to their first defeat in four matches and sit four points above the drop-zone.
The visitors started like a house on fire and had it not been for a last-ditch block from Murray Wallace from Tom Barkhuizen’s volley, they would have taken the lead.
But Preston were not to be denied as less than a minute later they did score. Paul Gallagher sent over a free-kick from deep that ended up at the right-foot of Hughes, who coolly volleyed past Jordan Archer from 12-yards. It was the first time that Millwall have conceded for more than five hours in all competitions and ended a run of three consecutive clean sheets.
Alex Neil’s men continued their excellent start on 16 minutes as Clarke added a second. Gallagher was once again the provider, sending over another dangerous corner, and Preston’s captain snuck in at the back-post to nod home unmarked.
And remarkably, Preston treated themselves to a third goal just before the half-hour mark. Clarke won the ball high up the pitch and found Gallagher, who slipped Sean Maguire in the clear and he coolly lifted over Archer to make it 3-0.
Neil Harris responded by making a double substitution at the break as Shane Ferguson and Steve Morison were introduced in place of Murray Wallace and Tom Elliott.
And Ferguson almost gave Millwall a lifeline just before the hour-mark. He picked up the ball on the left and drilled a dangerous cross-shot that fizzed just past the back-post, with Lee Gregory lurking.
Up the other end, Preston came close to netting a fourth, but Brad Potts was denied by a sharp save from Archer down to his right.
Thompson was brought on with 24 minutes remaining and the 23-year-old took less than a minute to bring the Lions back into the game. Ben Marshall found Morison, who headed back across and Thompson arrived on cue to slam home his first goal in Millwall colours since January 2018.
The Lions started to take control of the contest. The lively Thompson thought he had a second with nine minutes left on the clock, but Mahlon Romeo was in an offside position before cutting back.
And the hosts should have reduced the deficit on 84 minutes, but Lee Gregory was unable to convert from six yards after Rudd had parried Jed Wallace’s long-range effort into his path in what was Millwall’s final chance of a frustrating afternoon.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD