“Absolute embarrassment” was the term used by Simon Grayson after the name of the club was in the national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Set aside the fact that two players from the same side were scuffling with each other, the galling part of the double sending off was the fact that we were well on top and, I think, had an even chance of getting a point from the game. No doubt the manager will take the weekend to think things through but the travelling fans (801) – most of whom had paid £33 a ticket – were incandescent with rage at the antics of Doyle and Beckford and I would say at least 50% wanted the ultimate sanction brought to bear against two players who have brought shame on the club with their childish behaviour. People say that football is “different” and there is a lot of passion in the heat of the moment. Oh it’s “different” all right because what we saw late on at Hillsborough on Saturday was gross misconduct by both players and anyone administering an assault on a work colleague in the real world would now be looking for another job. With Wednesday 2-0 up but down to 10 men, Doyle was introduced and pulled a goal back with almost his first touch. The home side had declared and were hanging on to what they had when Doyle slotted the ball to Vermijl in a great position but the ex-Wednesday player shot wide. Beckford was furious he hadn’t received the ball from Doyle and so the shameful altercation between Beckford and Doyle began and, with the two red cards, our chance had gone. A dark afternoon in more ways than one for North End and in terms of the game itself I would sum it up by saying we were lacking that goalscoring touch as has been the case for the last half-a-dozen games. With Beckford and Doyle out until at least Boxing Day and Stevie May not yet 100%, all of the work will have to fall on Hugill, Robinson and Makienok up front. Hence the further anger at the utter stupidity of the events of the last few minutes at Hillsborough on Saturday. Well, I’ve had my say and no doubt the manager will have his on Monday as the pair are brought to book for their actions. The punishment needs to be swift and appropriate and we need to move on very quickly to the big game at Deepdale against Blackburn next Saturday when it is much more than three points that are at stake.
A disappointing, underwhelming afternoon for North End as below average performance saw them fall to defeat. But the main talking point was of course Doyle and Beckford coming to blows on the pitch late on in the game. Where do you even start? From the off, North End just weren’t really at the races in this one and it didn’t take long for Wednesday’s high energy and pressure to make us crack. Nine minutes in we failed to deal with a ball that could have been cleared a good few times before Forestieri nodded one into the net. Preston just couldn’t get hold of the ball, the intense pressure and closing down from the Wednesday players was getting the better of them everytime. Hugill had spells of this one up front on his own and it really just wasn’t enough and he tried to battle against two big centre-halves. When Forestieri saw red for an off-the-ball incident with Ben Pearson, hopes grew amongst the away following but we really struggled to have any kind of impact. Wednesday were award a penalty after a foul from Maxwell, and that looked like game over. But moments later substitute Eoin Doyle grabbed one back for North End but this is where things took a turn for the worse. After Vermijl blasted a shot over the bar, Beckford and Doyle came to blows on the edge of the area – it seems Beckford was the one who started it all. Fines, bans, whatever – just get it dealt with and move on. National and even some international headlines had us at the top of their list.
I can be certain that I’ve never witnessed two North End players being sent off for fighting each other and, I suspect, that a trawl through the history books all the way back to the inaugural season of 1888 would likewise draw a blank. To call this an embarrassment would be a fair reflection on how we, the visiting supporters, felt during the closing stages of a chilly early winter’s day in the Hillsborough gloom. A game already full of incident was there for the taking and was one in which the visitors stood a realistic chance of at least drawing level as they rained down on the home goal in wave after wave of attacking play. What a pity that a lacklustre first half formation needed the shake-up of a double substitution at the start of the second period to give Preston a chance from being 1-0 down. On the plus side, at least Simon Grayson had realised the error of his starting line-up and had the nous to do something about it. This still felt the case even when the men in yellow conceded a second goal due to a needlessly given away penalty by our otherwise decent goalkeeper Chris Maxwell. By this stage the home side had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Fernando Forestieri. Eoin Doyle, pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute to make it a game that left the home supporters biting their nails in the hope of hearing the final whistle. However, as the clocked ticked towards stoppage time, Jermaine Beckford took umbrage at not being put through by Doyle as a good opportunity went begging. The following school playground behaviour led to the embarrassing double dismissal and should have been the end of any chance of an equaliser. It is to the remaining players’ credit then that one more decent opportunity was carved out in the last few seconds as Jordan Hugill could not get up quite high enough to meet a quality cross from Greg Cunningham.
There are more than 200 different species of owls but the ones of the Sheffield Wednesday variety did not have to tax their predatory instincts too much to win this game. The bearing of talons was left to two of our own players who got involved in with each other near the end of the game, in unprecedented scenes I’ve never witnessed before in more than 40 years of watching my team. The shameful scene was nothing short of an embarrassment and more akin to watching Cloggers United versus Dog and Duck in the Sunday league, rather than a professional match. At a time when we were pressing for an equaliser against the Owls two of our own players decided to re-enact their own version of Ali v Frazier, which resulted in two red cards being issued and scuppered our chances of salvaging a point in this feisty clash. In any other workplace this action would be deemed as gross misconduct and result in instant dismissal and if I was in control of the club I would have no hesitation in following this course of action and finishing the careers of both Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle as players at Preston North End for such an undisciplined, juvenile act. We had begun the game on the back foot and conceded a goal following a period of pressure from the home side. After this, Wednesday seemed to sit back and following the introduction of Beckford at half-time our attacking options increased, having been helped as well by the home side being reduced to 10 men. We wasted three free-kicks in good positions on the edge of the area and then allowed the home side to double their advantage when we gave away a penalty in one of their rare second half forays into our penalty area. After substitute Doyle had halved the deficit 10 minutes from time, we continued to press but after the double sending off in the last minute, we handed victory on a plate to a very ordinary Wednesday side.