PNE 2-0 Aston Villa: Five things we learned

Ben Pearson and Aston Villa's Ashley Westwood square up at Deepdale on Saturday.
Ben Pearson and Aston Villa's Ashley Westwood square up at Deepdale on Saturday.
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Reporter Adam Lord takes a look at Preston North End’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa

Ben Pearson can be North End’s midfield general

The former Manchester United youngster has seemingly come from nowhere to become PNE’s key man. Having barely kicked a ball at the start of the season all that had been missing from his performances in recent weeks was a goal. He got that on Saturday, his first for North End. With Villa struggling and boss Roberto Di Matteo under pressure it came at a crucial time, Pearson slotting home just four minutes in after the ball broke to him in the box. He admitted post-match that success in front of goal isn’t the strongest part of his game but it has been coming, and if there’s more displays like that the man of the match one against Villa it won’t be the last. Plenty of energy, endeavour and quality means that even with Paul Gallagher back on the bench and Alan Browne coming on as a late sub, Pearson will take some shifting. Well schooled at Old Trafford and still only 21, Pearson is quickly becoming North End’s midfield general.

Money doesn’t buy success

Preston were very good on Saturday, in Villa’s faces from the off, giving a side low on confidence no time to find their feet. Add to that some real quality at crucial times and North End were simply far superior on the day. Make no mistake though, this was a woeful Aston Villa side. Defensively they were all over the place and the reality is PNE could have been out of sight at the interval. That they weren’t mattered not in the end. Despite Di Matteo introducing both Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede at the break and throwing nearly £40 million worth of talent at North End the late penalty save from Chris Maxwell to deny the former was only Villa’s second shot on target of the afternoon. Without an away win in 14 months and without a victory in eight games the near 6,000 travelling fans were ready to voice their obvious anger from the off. It didn’t take long, invited by a shocking showing from their side, and it may be a case of if not when Di Matteo’s reign comes to an end.

Home form could be key

The win over Villa was the third straight in the league for PNE at Deepdale. Form on home soil has been something Grayson has been wanting to rectify, North End finishing 11th last season with the lowest number of home wins of any side in the top half. Preston also stuttered into life in this campaign with the Lilywhites coming out on the wrong side of games against Fulham, Derby and Barnsley. But things have soon turned around as not only is it a hat-trick of victories in recent weeks but North End have also done it without conceding a goal. All involved at Deepdale will be hoping Saturday is a taste of things to come. Not only was it a deserved home win but PNE thrived in a big-game atmosphere.

Mature showing from the former Villa boys

Plenty of attention pre-match was on former Aston Villa men Callum Robinson and Daniel Johnson. Having rarely had a look in at Villa Park it was a chance for the pair to shine in front of a sold out away end. That they did. Robinson is arguably PNE’s player of the season so far and another tricky, taunting display from the left wing was just lacking a goal that he admitted would mean ‘everything’ to him pre-match. Ben Pearson may have picked up the man of the match honours but Johnson was a key part of the midfield three alongside John Welsh, breaking forward at every opportunity. The Jamaican came close to getting on the scoresheet only to be denied by a fine last-ditch tackle before Jordan Hugill scored. After the Villa fans had turned their ire on their own players post match it was nice to see mutual appreciation between the PNE pair and the away end. Two that got away?

Maxwell shows no signs of letting number one spot go

On any other day a penalty save from your goalkeeper in the last minute would make headlines. You almost feel sorry for Chris Maxwell that people won’t be shouting about what was a fine stop down low to his left more. The game was won after a fine PNE display whether it went in or not. But Maxwell’s stop from McCormack ensured the clean sheet and underlined that it really was North End’s day. On a personal note it was the latest highlight in a good few weeks for a goalkeeper who is increasingly grabbing his chance as the number one at Deepdale. There was one shaky moment, where he overran the ball when racing from his box, but Maxwell largely did what he had to well. Having missed out on the latest Wales squad surely it can’t be too long before he’s getting a call from Chris Coleman?