A typical mid-winter affair with North End leaving it very late to take a well earned point from the visitors.
Ipswich looked like they were going to hang on as North End pressed for an equaliser until Jordan Hugill levelled the game in the 89th minute with a well taken goal. It cancelled out the opening goal from the Tractor Boys which was a very well taken effort early in the game by the on-loan Tom Lawrence, although I think Simon Grayson may well question the defending on the right-hand side that allowed Lawrence to get into the box. A meagre crowd of just 10,656 was inside Deepdale which included 365 travelers from Portman Road and I couldn’t help thinking what a long way back it is when you have lost two points just a couple of minutes from time. It was the visitors who drew first blood, though, when Lawrence got the ball down the right and managed to cut in between Vermijl and Gallagher before unleashing a superb shot that gave Chris Maxwell no chance in the North End goal. We were getting plenty of crosses in the box particularly by McGeady but we were not getting on the end of them and in the first half I thought our play coming out of midfield was quite pedestrian at times. North End came out much more determined in the second period, no doubt motivated by a strong team talk from the manager. First up after the break Robinson had shot straight at the keeper as North End found a better stride against an Ipswich side that looked good on the ball but looked brittle in parts particularly when North End attacked them with real purpose. Grayson changed the side with Horgan and then Beckford appearing and it was the latter who set up McGeady for a rasping effort which Bialkowski did well to save in the visitors’ goal. It was all Preston but it was left until very late for the effective Horgan to collect a ball on the right-hand side and his cross found Hugill, who controlled the ball before smashing it into the net for a deserved late equaliser for North End. Three minutes of added time saw a little huffing and puffing at both ends but neither side could force the victory on a damp murky afternoon at Deepdale.
Only a point then for North End who had high hopes of taking all three points against an Ipswich side who are at the height of inconsistency at the moment. North End did not particularly play badly on the day but we looked lethargic early on and although we threw everything at it the performance wasn’t the best we have seen this season and maybe the manager might bring a player in to freshen things up before the trip to the Principality on Tuesday evening. One thing this game did remind us of and that is that there are no easy games in the Championship and that every point has to be earned against every team in the league. A slightly disappointing afternoon but not a disaster however North End will need to be much more at it for the whole ninety minutes to win games like these, of which there will be plenty more to come.
This week the volume of the media coverage of the transfer window in the back pages of the tabloids has been similar to that of a certain Mr Donald Trump on the front ones. The encouraging news for our fans in what has been a busy week at Deepdale was the decision by the club to turn down bids for three or four of our first-team players including Jordan Hugill. It is a statement of intent from the clubs owner and shows that we have at least some ambition to eventually reach the Premier League. When Hugill popped up in the box with a last minute leveller the decision to turn down the £2million bid from Saturday’s opponents Ipswich Town appeared to have been vindicated. We had been chasing the game from its early stages after a piece of magic from Ipswich forward Tom Lawrence separated the two sides at the interval after what had been a dour first half. In the second half we had far more of the attacking play and kept pressing particularly after the introduction of substitutes Daryl Horgan and Jermaine Beckford. However, Ipswich were well organised and defended resolutely with their keeper making a string of fine saves. Chris Maxwell in the opposite goal was troubled so little by the Tractor Boys’ strike force that a pigeon spent the entire second half foraging for food in his penalty area. Hugill got my vote for man of the match with his hold-up play being very good and he had the home fans cooing like the pigeon when his late strike hit the back of the net to give us a well deserved point.
Not the best of afternoons at Deepdale with cold temperatures and rainy weather but Hugill’s late strike lifted the spirits of the 10,000 North End fans inside the ground. Ben Pearson returned from suspension in place of Alan Browne but other than that, it was the same side that grabbed a point a Villa Park last week. It was an afternoon when we just never really hit full speed, never really produced what we’re capable of, a frustrating one really. Ipswich’s goal was a fantastic individual strike from Lawrence, but the efforts of Gallagher and Vermijl to stop him out wide were nothing short of pathetic and we were fully punished for it. It was a much more determined and threatening second half, we were on the front foot more, had more purpose, still not as good as we know we can be...but better. McGeady went close with a powerful drive and as we hit the last 10 minutes or so we had Ipswich camping deep in their own half, a goal was coming. And of course, it had to be the man that’s been a subject of two bids this month from Ipswich to get the equaliser, a cross by the lively Horgan fell to Jordan Hugill who controlled well and finished to grab his side a point. Not the best performance we’ve seen, but also not the worst, just a point where maybe we were looking at three.
In all honesty this was a point salvaged by North End in a game that they were probably expecting to win prior to kick-off. The team never quite reached the heights achieved in the second half of last Saturaday’s match at Villa and it felt like an opportunity to close the gap on the play-off places had been lost. However, on the plus side the team showed (yet again) just how much of a resilient bunch they are, the late equaliser by Jordan Hugill being just reward on the balance of play. Of course, this being football, the man currently the subject of two audacious bids by the visitors could not have scored at a better time to increase his growing reputation and monetary value. This fan for one is hoping that any such bids continue to be firmly rejected, as Hugill continues to develop and grow as a striker. So what went wrong? Well, an early goal by Ipswich in the opening period of the first half was a big and unexpected setback. Having said that, Tom Lawrence is a man in form for Ipswich, with a superbly-taken strike. Add into the mix a couple or more of the home players off-colour and an all round frustrating afternoon was the fayre on show as the game wore on. To give Simon Grayson credit, his second-half substitutions paid off – with the added support of Beckford and Makienok up-front, along with the creativity and spark of Daryl Horgan in midfield, leading to an improved second half performance and the deserved late equaliser. For me, Horgan should start the next match against Cardiff alongside Ben Pearson. It was another impressive display by the young Irishman that I suspect can only complement the added bite offered here by Pearson on his return to the team following suspension. So, on to the midweek trip to Cardiff and the chance for Simon to pit his wits against another Mick McCarthy-like wily old fox in the shape of Neil Warnock.