One of the positives aspects of Preston North End’s goalless draw with Sheffield United was the performance of midfield pair Josh Brownhill and Neil Kilkenny.
It was the first time that the pair had started together in a two-man engine room – they previously had John Welsh or Keith Keane for company in a midfield three.
PNE boss Simon Grayson chose to go with ball players rather than ball winners having anticipated the tactics which the Blades would adopt in the televised clash.
Brownhill struck the post with a second-half shot and was named Sky’s man of the match having put in an assured display in the middle of the park.
Alongside him, Kilkenny roamed around looking to get on the ball and was tidy with his passing.
Grayson told the Evening Post: “We knew how Sheffield United were going to play, that they had runners from midfield and would sit back to try and frustrate us.
“It was never going to be a physical battle in the middle of the park.
“So we looked for Kila to get on the ball and Josh as well, and Josh has more of an attacking instinct in him than the other lads in midfield.
“Josh showed that with his performance and he got close to scoring on a few occasions.
“At this stage of the season it is about picking a team for a particular game.
“I selected a side to get a result at Stevenage last week, and then went for a different team on Monday night.
“It might be that we go for something different against Swindon this weekend.
“You saw that Sheffield United dropped deeper and deeper, defending on the edge of their 18-yard box which is credit to us for the manner in which we pressed them.
“Their two centre-halves played very well.
“The way United play is to sit deep and entice you to get bodies forward and then try and counter attack through players like Jose Baxter and their two wide lads.
“We put in a good display, played at a good tempo, and the frustration was at the result rather than the performance.”
For Brownhill, it was his first start since January’s goalless draw at Bradford City when he picked up a groin strain which kept him sidelined for just over a fortnight.
He had come off the bench as a second-half substitute for the last seven games, before getting the nod on Monday.
The night before he had been unlucky to miss out on the League One apprentice of the year award at the Football League Awards in London.
Brownhill, 18, had been on a three-man shortlist, but was pipped to the post by Brendan Galloway of MK Dons.
Reflecting on the draw with the Blades, Brownhill said: “I thought we were a bit hard done by, we had a lot of chances to put the game to bed which we should have done.
“We knew they were going to be hard to break down, they drop behind the ball and there were a lot of men back.
“We just couldn’t get that bit of luck which we have been missing lately.”
Brownhill has now made 14 starts and 11 appearances from the bench after forcing his way into the first-team squad in October. He joined PNE’s academy aged 15 after leaving Manchester United.