A very uncomfortable watch on Wednesday night as North End were easily brushed aside by Millwall. The same XI for the third game in a row perhaps tired badly on a night where there was few positives to take from the game.
Here are five things we learned from the 2-0 defeat to Millwall.
0 Points and 0 Goals at Home
Let’s start with the obvious shall we? Another home defeat which makes it 4 in a row to start the season with. In my time as a North End fan (1996 onwards) our form at Deepdale has predominantly been strong and has set the foundations for any good season we have had in that time. To start it with four defeats and not scoring; and let’s be honest we’ve barely come close to scoring in that time, is very, very poor.
Of course, we have had tough games at Deepdale and the ‘fortress’ isn’t what it once was with no fans inside but even still. Is Alex Neil overthinking his tactics at home? Why do they work away but not at all when back in Preston?
Zero points, and zero goals at home and yet ten points and ten goals away from home. If there were fans present at Deepdale under those wonderful floodlights on Wednesday night I reckon there would have been quite a few displaying their dismay at another poor defeat at home.
Millwall Are Incredibly Well Organised
Despite half their management team not being able to attend the game due to having to self-isolate, the Lions put on a superb display that restricted North End to more or less, one decent chance that fell the way of Tom Barkhuizen in the second half.
They were well organised and kept pressing us until the last minute. Even when we were chasing an equaliser Millwall looked like the only team capable of getting the second goal and they duly did despite it being a bit of a dodgy penalty decision. Fair play to them.
A well-oiled team that I think we could learn a lot from. Gary Rowett has done a fantastic job since taking over from Neil Harris and Alex Neil has now lost to Gary Rowett more than any manager in his career.
Full Backs Weren’t the Best
Reading Twitter after the game, there was a lot of people highlighting the poor performances from Andrew Hughes and Joe Rafferty.
It goes without saying that Darnell Fisher is a huge player for us and we are significantly worse off without him on the pitch and even though Andrew Hughes and Joe Rafferty do a job for us, to an extent, they can often be found wanting against good opposition.
When they’re good things like putting in good crosses, being strong at the back and in the air are some of their standout qualities. But when they’re poor, they are often caught out of position and at times, they struggle to make it out of their own half. They didn’t give Declan Rudd much of an outlet to use on Wednesday night.
Some fans are calling for Josh Earl to be given a go. He can be frustrating with his languid approach and lack of urgency at times but he is much stronger at getting forward. Following his two loan spells away in recent seasons with Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town, he might have learnt a lot, too.
Barky Has to Start
For me, if Tom Barkhuizen is fit and available he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s our best winger and can use his pace to devastating effect. Most of the goals we have conceded this season have come from counter-attacks. We need to start doing that, in my opinion.
With Barky and Scott Sinclair out wide, that gives us the best chance of that. Brad Potts has looked good this season but I’m not particularly keen on playing him out wide. He’s not a natural winger but is still strong on the ball and gets into good positions. Yet we have an abundance of options in the centre of midfield which makes it difficult to fit Potts into the team there.
One thing is for sure we didn’t get Emil Riis involved enough in the game enough on Wednesday night. He had shown in his last two games that he is more than a handful but the only service he had on Wednesday was long balls up top which didn’t work. However, there might have been more to his performance than initially met the eye…
Illness in the Camp?
After the game, Alex Neil came out and said a number of the team had been suffering from an illness. However, before the game, they all stepped forward and said they could play. Patrick Bauer could only manage 45 minutes and Alex Neil said he had been sick at half time and a number of players were clearly struggling, too.
If that was the case after the same team had already played two very tough games in the last week then surely, you’d think that perhaps there might have been a change of personnel for last night’s game, regardless of the players saying they were ok, every player is going to say that. At least I would hope so.
They want to play and don’t want to lose their spot in the team. The gaffer should have been stronger, in my opinion, and used this as an opportunity to mix things up a little bit. As the lads said on the podcast last night, personnel was the issue last night. Alex Neil needs to trust his squad a bit more.
For me, one thing is for sure ahead of our next game on Saturday afternoon against Birmingham City, we need to see change. I would hope Darnell Fisher starts, I hope Ben Davies is in contention again and that Barky gets his first start since his red card against Stoke City, over a month ago.
If you’ve not yet listened to Episode #12 of the podcast, it’s available to stream in all the normal places you stream the podcast and right here on our website or below.