Aston Villa 2, PNE 2: Dave Seddon's big match verdict
Post-match I rarely venture into the opposition manager's press conference but listening to Steve Bruce was interesting to say the least.
The highlights from his eight minutes in front of the print media centred on two strikers – one who ran his heart out for Preston and pegged back Bruce’s Aston Villa side, the other who was conspicuous by his absence.
Jordan Hugill led North End’s Villa Park revival with two goals in the second half after the hosts had led 2-0 at the interval.
Here is a lad full of honest toil and endeavour, and who has shown that he has goals in his locker.
Those who were willing to drive him to Ipswich when news of a £1.5m bid came out the other week, think again.
“We were terrific for an hour and every time we went forward we looked like we were going to score,” said Bruce.
“To be fair to them (PNE), they are a resilient mob and stick at it.
“They are epitomised by their centre-forward who is not easy on the eye but my God, he is effective.
“He is a bit of a swine to play against!”
Ross McCormack was the other striker to get air time from Bruce.
While Hugill was a problem thrown at Bruce by North End, McCormack is a problem from within the Villa ranks.
The £12m front man was not in the hosts’ match-day squad having stretched his manager’s patience to the limit by apparent no-shows at training.
McCormack, according to Bruce, had used the excuse of the electric gates at his house being jammed – hence being unable to get his car out – as the reason for an absence in the last few days.
Since a big-money move from Fulham, McCormack has scored three goals in Villa colours.
Hugill took his campaign’s tally to eight with this double, seven of them in the league.
Raw with plenty still to learn he might be, but this is the type of player who North End have a decent track record with in recent seasons.
His background is a humble one in football terms, a trade learned in non-league on the North Yorkshire coast and for a spell in Spain at Glenn Hoddle’s academy.
Talk to Hugill and you will find a down-to-earth lad who recognises very clearly what an opportunity has come his way.
I doubt he is the type who has electric gates at his house, even if he did and the gates stuck closed one morning, Hugill would no doubt vault the wall to get himself to training!
While Bruce described him as not easy on the eye, there was nothing ungainly when it came to the two goals Hugill scored.
For the first he powered down the left-channel, cut inside and leathered a shot into the far top corner past his former team-mate Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal.
The second he leapt like a salmon to meet with his head, benefiting from a precision Aiden McGeady cross.
He was playing on one leg by then, having jarred his right knee soon after the first goal.
Once Hugill had finished celebrating the second in front of the 2,700 PNE fans, his race was run and off he went to get it strapped up.
The striker was on crutches as he left the ground, purely precautionary he was keen to stress.
Hopefully he will be fit for selection against Ipswich, the club who have been trying to lure him away from Deepdale this last few weeks.
The fact North End needed Hugill’s two goals to earn them a point was down to a very poor display in the first half which meant they had to play catch-up.
Although there was lots of controversy surrounding the penalty which led to Villa’s second goal – it was a shocking decision from referee Andy Madley – you could not begrudge the hosts their interval lead.
They played through PNE’s lines with alarming ease and at the interval there were fears this could be Newcastle away all over again.
Thankfully, they looked far more solid in the early stages of the second half and that gave them the confidence to push on.
Hugill’s solo effort filled the visitors with belief, it being no real surprise when he headed the equaliser.
Simon Grayson went with a 4-4-2 system, Tommy Spurr in at left-back for the suspended Greg Cunningham who spent the afternoon sat in the press box kicking every ball.
Daniel Johnson returned from a bout of flu, taking the place of Daryl Horgan who it could be said was unlucky to drop to the bench.
The formation quickly had to change as Villa threatened to swamp Preston.
It switched to 4-1-4-1, Paul Gallagher moving inside to the deep midfield role and Callum Robinson dropping off the front to play on the right.
Many of the hosts’ attacks came down their left, Marnick Vermijl left rather exposed by Andre Green and Jordan Amavi doubling-up on him.
North End were undone for the first goal by a Jack Grealish chip over the top, one which Gabriel Agbonlahor knocked a bit far ahead of him and gave Chris Maxwell a sniff at.
Perhaps Maxwell was a touch hesitant, colliding with Agbonlahor and the loose ball was knocked over the line by Albert ADOMAH. When McGeady executed a challenge on Adomah to win the ball cleanly and clearly, it was astonishing to see Mr Madley point to the spot.
Even when the linesman on that side of the pitch called him over to give his view, the referee stuck to his guns.
ADOMAH put the penalty high into the net and the game looked beyond North End.
Cue the Hugill show, the deficit cut in the 64th minute as DJ fed a pass out to him on the half-way line.
Through the Villa half HUGILL ran, cutting inside and rifling a right-foot shot into the net as four defenders stood off.
Preston restored parity 12 minutes later, a corner on the left rolled short to McGeady by Gallagher.
McGeady went one way and then the other, sending over a cross which HUGILL jumped high to meet and head into the roof of the net to spark wild celebrations among the big away following.
Chris Maxwell 6
Looked a bit hesitant coming off his line when the ball was played through for Villa’s first goal, made two comfortable saves late on.
Marnick Vermijl 6
Had a tough afternoon against Andre Green and Jordan Amavi who doubled-up to good effect. Better in the second half.
Tom Clarke 7
Plenty of work to do in the first half as North End got stretched, got more of a grip in the second, limiting Agbonlahor’s effectiveness.
Paul Huntington 7
Had PNE’s one chance of the first half with a header over the bar. Put in some timely blocks when the pressure was on.
Tommy Spurr 7
Grew into the game as it went on, getting more confidence. His long throw-in caused a few problems in the second half.
Paul Gallagher 7
Started on the right-wing but was switched into a deep midfield role to try and contain Villa. More of a influence as the game went on.
Alan Browne 7
Caught out a few times in the first half by the home side’s runners, the midfielder improved after the break and put in a very decent shift.
Daniel Johnson 6
Not quite the display he would have wanted against his former club. Got on the ball far more once PNE were back in the game.
Aiden McGeady 8
Had a big influence on the game in the second half, in line with most of his team-mates. He supplied the cross for the equaliser.
Callum Robinson 6
Played the first hour, starting up front before coming out to the right-wing. Didn’t really get into the game.
Jordan Hugill 8
Preston’s hero, spearheading their comeback by scoring the two goals – a fine solo effort and then a towering header.
Daryl Horgan 7
Replaced Robinson in the 59th minute and was busy on the right-wing. Helped push Preston forward.
Jermaine Beckford 6
Made his return from suspension after the equaliser, Hugill limping off. Lead the line and stayed out of trouble.
subs not used
Simon Makienok, Liam Grimshaw, Ben Pringle, Andy Boyle, Anders Lindegaard.
Johnstone, Hutton, Chester, Baker, Amavi (Gardner 88) Lansbury (Bacuna 77), Westwood, Admoah, Gralish (David 90), Green, Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Richards, Elphick, Tshibola, Bunn.
Andy Madley 5
32,415 (2,700 PNE)