Throughout the second half of the 2018/19 season, millwallfc.co.uk will be analysing The Lions' opponents by taking a look back at their campaign so far. As we prepare to host Preston North End at The Den, we look at The Lilywhites’ recent progress.
Preston North End went into 2018/19 high in confidence and enthusiasm, having placed just two points outside the Sky Bet Championship last term in seventh, with both Alex Neil’s side and Millwall proving late dark horses in competing for the top six spots. Wholesale changes took place amongst the squad in the summer months including the signings of Andrew Hughes, Jordan Storey and Lukas Nmecha, and the departures of Greg Cunningham, John Welsh and Eoin Doyle. Preston won four of their six pre-season fixtures, scoring 25 goals across their schedule, ahead of the club’s opening Championship fixture against QPR at Deepdale.
Preston hosted the West Londoners first up, with top scorer Alan Browne firing the solitary winner as Neil’s men got off to an ideal start. However, League form was shortly about to plummet, with the team only picking up two points from a possible 27 and losing seven of their next nine. A 1-0 defeat at Swansea was followed by a 3-1 win over Morecambe in the Carabao Cup First Round, before The Lilywhites let a half-time lead slip to draw 2-2 with Stoke City at Deepdale. Successive 2-0 defeats at Norwich City and Derby County lowered Preston to 19th in the table, with the Carabao Cup again acting as a saving grace with Neil’s team taking a 2-0 victory home from Elland Road against Leeds United.
September was to be a torrid month at Deepdale in terms of results. After surrendering an early two-goal lead to be held 2-2 by Bolton Wanderers, this would turn out to be the club’s only point in the Championship during September. Whilst scoring goals was not to be the problem, the team conceded 16 in all competitions throughout the month. A 3-2 home defeat to Reading was followed by a 3-0 reverse at Leeds, before shipping a late winner at Sheffield United to again go down 3-2. After a 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup Third Round, Preston lost out on penalties and finished the month with a third 3-2 defeat, this time at Deepdale against West Bromwich Albion. The men from the North West sat bottom of the pile going into October.
As October began, fortunes were about to take a turn for the better at Deepdale. Another thrilling spectacle opened the month, this time at Villa Park where Neil’s side came from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead over Aston Villa, before conceding late on. The 3-3 scoreline however was encouragement for The Lilywhites, who would go on to enjoy a nine-match unbeaten League run. The frustrations from recent weeks would be blown out in one devastating display from Preston, who routed Wigan Athletic 4-0 in their next home game to raise a buzz around the camp before the international break. Upon returning, Neil’s team struck an injury-time equaliser at Hull City to take home a point, before another thriller as they ran out 4-3 winners over Brentford. Preston closed the month with a home draw against Rotherham United and had elevated themselves out of the drop zone.
November would serve to be another productive month for Preston, with just four games to gain points from. A draw at Ipswich Town was followed by two victories either side of the third international break of the season, as the North West outfit snatched an impressive 1-0 win at Bristol City before a 4-1 home demolition of Blackburn Rovers. A reasonable home draw with Middlesbrough saw Preston into 15th as a busy December beckoned.
The busy month of December began with Preston’s first defeat since the end of September as Birmingham City took a 3-0 win at St. Andrew’s, before a 1-0 victory at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest. With the festive schedule fast approaching, The Lilywhites would next host Neil Harris’ Millwall side at Deepdale. A 2-0 second-half lead effectively had the game won for the home side, despite Jake Cooper and Lee Gregory getting on the scoresheet in the second half which saw The Lions lose out 3-2. Preston suffered a subsequent double-blow, beaten by Sheffield Wednesday and Hull either side of Christmas, before finishing 2018 with a 1-1 home draw with Aston Villa.
Sitting 17th in the Championship table at the turn of the year, Preston had four League games scheduled alongside the Third Round of the Emirates FA Cup. Neil also undertook plenty of transfer activity, as several squad players departed Deepdale – the majority on loan deals – including Chris Maxwell and Graham Burke, with The Lilywhites recruiting the likes of Brad Potts and Jayden Stockley on permanent deals. The dawning of 2019 struggled to see Preston fly from the traps, as a 2-1 League defeat at Rotherham was followed by a disappointing 3-1 home loss in the Cup to League One Doncaster Rovers. These however were to be Preston’s last defeats to this day, with an unbeaten run of seven games and counting ensuing since. A 1-1 draw with Swansea at Deepdale preceded remarkable successive away victories, hammering QPR 4-1 before a 2-0 win at Stoke.
Entering February in 16th, Preston began this month with a goalless draw at home to Derby, before the team resumed their goalscoring prowess with back-to-back wins over Bolton (2-1) and table-toppers Norwich (3-1). Following another stalemate at Deepdale, this time against Nottingham Forest, The Lilywhites have broken into the top half of the Championship and are looking to continue their upturn in form as the campaign moves towards its business end.