Reporter Adam Lord takes a closer look at PNE’s agonising defeat to leaders Newcastle at Deepdale on Saturday.
Tuesday night’s defeat was a blip
After the 6-0 hammering at Newcastle much was made of how PNE were going to bounce back from the heavy defeat at St James’ Park. All at Deepdale said it was a blip pre-match and they proved that was the case with an impressive performance in defeat against Rafa Benitez’s title favourites. Simon Grayson reverted back to the side that beat Norwich seven days earlier having made nine changes for the EFL Cup exit. Almost all inside the ground conceded North End were worthy of a point which they should have picked up after a dramatic finale. Jermaine Beckford was denied a clear late penalty, Callum Robinson having seen an earlier appeal waved away by referee Chris Kavanagh. Marnick Vermijl also hit the post with a late overhead kick as a battling, spirited display in which PNE matched the Championship leaders ultimately came up short.
Character could get PNE a long way this season
For long periods this was a game dominated by endeavour rather than quality. That changed as the game developed, Aleksandar Mitrović in particular taking the first of his two goals well. His second, coming 12 minutes after the first with 20 to play seemed to be setting the game on a particular course. It is to PNE’s great credit then that they didn’t let their unbeaten six-game run in the Championship go without a fight. A lot has been said about the team spirit and squad togetherness at Deepdale and that was certainly in evidence, especially considering how they’d been put to the sword by the same side earlier in the week. It has been a squad game, but after the EFL Cup disappointment it does that appear that Simon Grayson’s strongest side has come to the fore during an impressive October where they have shown just what they are capable of against the top sides in the second tier.
Ben Pearson will be missed
One of those players to emerge is Ben Pearson. The midfield man was again the man of the match against Newcastle, looking dynamic in a role in front of the back four. Not afraid to put himself about, the former Manchester United youngster is not unfamiliar with a burst forwards too, making him the classic box-to-box midfielder. It was his combative style that saw him get in trouble with referee Kavanagh though for a challenge on Matt Ritchie. A fifth booking means he will miss the final game before the international break at Rotherham next Saturday. With PNE also without the injured John Welsh and banned Alan Browne, Simon Grayson looks a little short in the middle of the park for the trip to the New York Stadium.
North End will be glad to see the back of Aleksandar Mitrovic
It’s hard to believe that Serbian brute Aleksandar Mitrovic has been on the fringes of the Newcastle team this season after the arrival of Dwight Gayle. He is still a £13 million front man though and don’t PNE know it after four goals in two games this week. After bullying the North End backline at St James’ Park he was largely shackled at Deepdale before first a fine finish and then a swift reaction sealed a second brace. His form this week underlines just what Rafa Benitez has at his disposal as he looks to mastermind a swift return to the top flight. That looks a near certainty as after Tuesday night’s demolition job, Newcastle produced a display built more on graft before riding their luck late on to take the three points back to the North East.
Big-game atmosphere suits Deepdale
For the first time this season Deepdale welcomed more than 20,000 fans and supporters at both ends they certainly made themselves heard. There was a real big-game feel from start to finish and although it was slow to get going, the occasion ultimately got the spectacle to match. The finale was certainly dramatic and should have seen all 20,724 having something to take from the game. As it was, the 5,661 Magpies were the ones who left the happier.