Dave Seddon’s PNE verdict

Marnick Vermijl celebrates after Eoin Doyle's touch leaves Bolton's Paul Rachubka stranded for the winning goal

Marnick Vermijl celebrates after Eoin Doyle's touch leaves Bolton's Paul Rachubka stranded for the winning goal

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With just nine words when he was manager of Preston North End, the late Alan Ball Snr inadvertently created a unique football trend.

His off-the-cuff quote that ‘Preston fans are the best, they are the Gentry’, had North End fans of the early 1970s flocking to empty the shelves of bowler hats and the racks of sharp suits.

Reborn in 2005, PNE’s Gentry lives on five decades after Ball’s observation.

On Saturday, the event which is dedicated to those sadly no longer with us, had its biggest outing yet.

More than 4,400 North Enders were at one end of the Macron Stadium to see a strong Preston fightback secure three points.

It was an afternoon of firsts – a first Gentry Day win in nine attempts, the first success on Bolton/Horwich soil since September 1990 and a first league goal for Jordan Hugill in a PNE shirt.

Hugill’s diving header, a brave effort down among the boots in the six-yard box, put the visitors on equal terms after conceding a soft goal in the first half.

If that was celebrated with much vigour – but also stupidity by whoever threw the smoke bomb – then it was nothing compared to Eoin Doyle’s winner.

Doyle got the last touch to a shot from fellow substitute Marnick Vermijl, sparking wild scenes in the away end four minutes from time.

Vermijl ran one way to celebrate what he thought was his goal, Doyle went the other to salute his vital touch.

The general consensus later was that it was Doyle’s goal but let us take nothing away from Vermijl for the Belgian’s role in it.

Any victory is welcome but for it to come against a Bolton side who have had much the better results in meetings with North End over the last 20 years or so, this was especially sweet.

There was the 3-0 defeat to Wanderers in the play-off final of 2001, and it was Bolton who inflicted the 1-0 loss which relegated John Beck’s men on Flat Cap day in 1993.

Preston had not beaten Bolton since March 1992 at Deepdale and you have go 18 months further back to find an away win when Martin James and Ian Bogie were on target for the Lilywhites.

For much of the first half of this 138th meeting of the sides, there was not much indication that North End’s poor run against Bolton would be halted.

An early flourish in which Hugill hit the top of the bar with 17 seconds gone, gave way to a below-par display.

Preston could have no complaints about going in at half-time trailing.

What was to change the direction of the game was both a tactical switch and a verbal volley from the boss.

Simon Grayson said some ‘choice words’ had been spoken during the interval to spark a response.

The change in shape was crucial too.

North End went from a 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 and were all the better for it.

After getting bogged down in a central role in the first half, Callum Robinson got a new lease of life on the left wing.

Adam Reach was freed from the left wing-back role to play further up the pitch on the right.

With Calum Woods and Greg Cunningham doing their fair share of attacking from the full-back positions, suddenly Preston posed a threat. The game opened up, that suited them, Hugill and then Doyle obliging with the goals to make the quick trip back up the M61 a happy one.

Beating a side bottom of the division might not have been the stand-out result of the day, however this was a potentially tricky encounter eventually negotiated.

Bolton had been taken over 48 hours earlier by the consortium headed by former striker Dean Holdsworth.

After months of financial uncertainty, they are now on a safer financial footing.

That had given rise to an air of optimism on and off the pitch which could well have helped galvanise them for Preston’s visit.

The hosts certainly were the better side for 45 minutes, helped, it must be said, by their visitors standing too far off them and dropping deep.

Confidence was to play a big part in proceedings though, North End having bags of it once the leveller from Hugill went in.

They were full to the brim of the stuff by the time Doyle netted, with the Irish striker going on to put the ball away again, only for an offside flag to deny him.

With the improvement shown once they changed to 4-3-3, it begs the question, do they start that way against Queens Park Rangers next weekend?

Preston have changed to the flat back four at half-time against Charlton, Cardiff, Nottingham Forest and now Bolton, twice delivering a win and in the other two games, an improved performance in terms of going forward.

The 3-5-2 which started on Saturday was one which was tweaked from the defeat at Forest five days earlier.

Paul Huntington’s absence through injury meant a shift inside for Cunningham to play in a back three.

In Joe Garner’s absence and with Reach needed to play at left wing-back, Hugill and Robinson got the nod to start up front.

Robinson was the deeper of the two, operating in the No.10-type role which Reach had filled of late.

There were no complaints with how North End started the game, Bolton taking the kick-off but losing possession before they could get the ball out of the centre-circle.

Reach was played into space on the left, his cross met by Hugill, whose header clipped the top of the bar.

Such pressing was not to be a feature of their play for much of the first half though, with territory frustratingly surrendered.

It proved costly when the home side took the lead in the 22nd minute, not enough pressure put on Mark Davies on the edge of the box.

He laid the ball back into the path of Liam TROTTER, who had the time to control and stroke a low shot into the far bottom corner.

Applause filled the ground in the 33rd minute as fans of both sides honoured the 70th anniversary of the Burnden Park disaster when 33 fans lost their lives.

‘Hats off to the 33’ sang the Preston fans, waving their bowlers in the air in a mark of respect to the fallen.

North End levelled in the 57th minute, Cunningham’s pass feeding Robinson 
down the inside-left 
channel.

His cross hit a defender and was chased by Reach to the side of the six-yard box.

Reach hooked it over his shoulder into the middle, HUGILL bravely sending a diving header into the net as Dean Moxey went for the same ball with his foot.

The winner arrived in the 86th minute, Cunningham driving a centre across goal and beyond the back post.

Vermijl connected with a side-foot volley, one which DOYLE flicked out a leg to steer into the net, the cue for wild celebrations.