EVENING POST FANS’ PANEL
It was quite a game at Deepdale with North End running out 2-0 winners against a Port Vale side who concentrated more, it would appear, on winding Joe Garner up than trying to win the game. Several incidents were missed by the officials but I have to say that Duffy and Zubar at the heart of the Valiants defence really dished it out for long periods of the game. North End, though, had just that little bit of extra quality that you need and goals from Gallagher and a deflected Alan Browne shot with ten minutes to go was easily enough on the day to make it four league wins on the bounce and lift North End up into fourth place in the League One table. Vale finished the game with 10 men when Zubar was dismissed for punching Garner on the floor after the incident was well spotted by the fourth official. The game started fairly evenly. A lot of effort from both sides went into the first 20 minutes or so and I was very impressed by the way North End closed Port Vale down with the forwards working particularly hard. Gradually we started to take control as the half wore on with man of the match Buchanan and Kyle Reid causing plenty of trouble down the North End left. To be fair to Vale they had two or three half chances and Jones was called upon on a couple of occasions to keep the home goal intact. North End finally got their reward in the 42nd minute when the ball dropped to Gallagher after several errors in the visitors defence and he made no mistake. Garner and Duffy clashed again with Garner getting a yellow card for his trouble from the referee. The game was threatening to get out of hand a little and I thought the referee had let too much go earlier on in the game for it to be a real spectacle. North End continued to be in the ascendancy and on 78 minutes Zubar appeared to punch Garner and, whilst the referee missed the incident, the fourth official indicated to the referee that a punch had been thrown and Zubar was heading south towards Skeffington Road. Within two minutes the game was put to bed when an Alan Browne shot caught a deflection and went past a helpless Chris Neal to give North End a well deserved victory. So 12 points out of 12 for the boys in the race to the Championship and another good performance. I thought all the boys did well with no real lapses in concentration apart from Jamie Jones almost messing up a clearance. Seven of our 11 league games have been at home so in that respect maybe the table flatters us slightly but all will be equal games very soon as the Autumn tour of England starts for North End and the travelling supporters.
Whilst it was unlikely that Vale’s most famous fan crooner Robbie Williams was sat in the Bill Shankly Kop leading the singing for his side’s sizeable contingent of boisterous fans it is certain that his team were no angels on the pitch in what was one of the most feisty encounters I have witnessed at Deepdale in many a while. Instead, it was Joe Garner – one of our own famous fans turned star player – who took centre stage in what became a rather bruising afternoon for our leading goalscorer. From the kick off he was targeted for some rough treatment by his markers and constantly baited by the opposition fans. His class showed when he responded to this by almost opening the scoring with an exquisite bicycle kick from the edge of the area but what most impressed me about his performance was the manner in which he did not react or retaliate to any intimidation and dusted himself down and got on with the job. It was reminiscent of one of his heroes Ricardo Fuller, who showed a similar mentality on the many occasions he troubled the opposition and was constantly fouled. In the first half, the referee – who I felt had a poor game – seemed to take the view that any time Garner was felled he was taking a dive and never awarded a free-kick for any of the persistent fouls on him. Had Paul Gallagher not given us the lead shortly before the interval with a well-worked goal, the boos for the referee at half-time would have been much more audible as, minutes earlier, he had denied us a penalty for handball which was so crystal clear to make every fan on the Town End appeal. Vale had matched us for large chunks of the first half but after the break we had more possession and became more dominant. Just inside the last 15 minutes Garner was the victim in an off-the-ball incident and felled by his marker who was given a straight red card to hoots of derision from the away section. I personally think he should have walked earlier in the game and has no case for an appeal against an unfair dismissal. Almost instantly after the sending off Alan Browne burst through to seal victory in a tough and exciting game and give us an impressive five-match winning sequence.
All in all a feisty affair but with a fourth league win in a row (five in all competitions), no home fan was in the least bit bothered by the time somewhat controversial referee Mr Russell blew the final whistle. If we take out all the shenanigans, which in the main centred on Joe Garner and his ‘angry’ marker, this was in fact quite a comfortable win for the Lilywhites. Speaking of Garner, it has to be said that I for one am glad he is playing for my team, as he clearly stands out at this level which, I suspect, is one of the reasons he receives so much attention. Yes, he causes mischief. Yes, he can be accused of going down too easily but just remember the quality of his overhead kick in the first half, the countless headers he wins against players much taller than him and of his constant goal threat and it is easy to see why he is targeted week after week. Does he do himself any favours? Probably not but then he wouldn’t be Joe Garner. Another player I am really enjoying watching is David Buchanan, who put in a superb display to take the sponsors’ man of the match award. Add in the continued development of Alan Browne and the start of this season augers well compared to those of the recent past.