Dave Seddon’s PNE verdict: Lilywhites Reach gold standard

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Preston broke through the 40-point barrier with this victory over Wolves which surely switches the focus up rather than down the table.

Safety first has always been the motto this season, the main aim being to make sure they stay up.

Paul Gallagher lifts the ball over Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme to give PNE the lead at Molineux

Paul Gallagher lifts the ball over Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme to give PNE the lead at Molineux

With 42 points put on the board by mid-February, with another 15 matches to go, that target is now surely within touching distance.

In seasons gone by, the high-water mark has been 50 to 53 points.

The way the division has shaped this season, it seems likely that a few less points than normal will keep teams safe from the drop.

A revised target for North End now is to see how much further they can push up the Championship table.

The weekend’s success at Molinuex pushed them into the top half for the first time this campaign – they last reached such dizzy heights five years ago to the day.

A push for the play-offs is probably pushing things too far, even though sixth-placed Derby County are only nine points away.

To climb higher in that top-half order is not beyond them though, a challenge the Lilywhites currently look in the mood to meet.

Since the Boxing Day wobble at Huddersfield, they have taken 17 points from eight games.

PNE have responded to the solitary defeat in that sequence by taking seven points from nine on offer.

Despite losing only four league games out of the last 21 – a run stretching back to October – Simon Grayson’s men do not seem to get the credit from the outside that they deserve.

Some fans of opposing clubs see the dropping of points against North End as reason to jump and scream like tearful toddlers.

Derby followers were howling after being held to a goalless draw at the start of the month.

On Saturday, the Wolves faithful were crying into their pints of Banks’s Beer and wondering how on earth their team had lost on home soil to Preston.

To put it bluntly, North End were better than them.

In fact they were a great deal better, the 2-1 scoreline perhaps not telling the story of Preston’s control.

Had the visitors widened the margin of their win by another goal, Wolves could not have had grounds for complaint.

Victory came during the weekend when North End honoured Sir Tom Finney.

The game fell a day before the second anniversary of his passing at the age of 91.

In the seventh minute, Preston’s 1,504 travelling fans stood and clapped in memory of a great man.

Some of the Wolves fans joined in too, in recognition of Sir Tom’s talents.

The applause gave way to several choruses of the ‘Viva Tom Finney’ chant from the away section which was spread out along the bottom tier of the Steve Bull Stand.

As we remembered Sir Tom, perhaps it was fitting that a winger stood out as Preston’s best player.

Adam Reach ran Wolves ragged all afternoon and got his name on the scoresheet.

He was given a free role off Joe Garner, the on-loan Middlesbrough man playing all the way across the front line.

Reach had done likewise in a 3-5-1-1 system at Derby, only this time he did it much better and was a constant threat.

It was not a one-man show though, Alan Browne and Paul Gallagher – scorer of PNE’s opener – excelling in midfield.

Further back, the defence were solid, bar one slip which let in Wolves for their goal.

That strike from sub Joe Mason might have halved the deficit but ultimately had no bearing on the destiny of the three points.

Mason found the net with 23 minutes left, the fact that Wolves hardly threatened the North End goal after that, an indication of the degree of comfort the visitors saw the game out in.

Molineux is proving to be a happy hunting ground for Preston, this win the fifth in 10 visits there since 2000 – a sequence which also includes two draws.

From the word go this time, Grayson’s men looked up for the task in hand.

While the week before against Huddersfield, they had been hesitant and off-key for long spells, Preston were anything but on Saturday.

Inside two minutes, Reach had shown a clean pair of heels to Matt Doherty down North End’s right wing and put in a cross for Garner at the near post, the striker taking one touch too many in trying to get a shot off and getting crowded out.

Such a burst of pace from Reach set the tone, and he did likewise down the other side to set up Gallagher, a chance the midfielder lifted too high from outside the box.

Gallagher showed much more accuracy in the 17th minute when giving Preston the lead.

Taking possession in a deep position, Gallagher drove towards the Wolves box and slipped a pass to Garner, who had his back to goal.

Garner turned and lifted a pass over the home defence, GALLAGHER continuing his run to meet it.

He reached the ball as it bounced in the box, lobbing a right-foot shot over keeper Carl Ikeme as he came out.

The ball bounced across goal and into the far corner, Reach cleverly blocking off Doherty to make sure he would not get back to clear off the line.

Wolves’ one response of the first half was a free-kick from substitute Nathan Byrne, the former Swindon player’s effort from 25 yards hitting the outside of the post.

Another Reach pass found Garner on the side of the box but his low shot bobbled wide of the far post.

The combination of Reach and Garner were at it again early in the second half, a cross from Reach travelling beyond the far post which Garner met with a header but was unable to direct it on target from a tight angle.

Preston only had to wait until the 53rd minute to net their second goal, Calum Woods driving down the right and whipping over a cross from the byline, which Ikeme challenged Browne for in the air.

The goalkeeper’s punch fell to REACH on the side of the six-yard box, who drilled a first-time finish into the far bottom corner.

Wolves briefly came into the game with a 67th-minute goal, Conor Coady’s hopeful ball misjudged by Tom Clarke which let in MASON.

The recent £3m buy from Cardiff took the ball down in the box, sidestepped Anders Lindegaard, before slotting a shot past the covering Woods on the line.

That was the cue for John Welsh’s arrival from the bench in place of Gallagher, who was struggling with his on-going hernia injury.

The presence of Welsh was just what was needed, the sound of one tackle he put in probably shattering windows in a two-mile radius.

The expected onslaught from Wolves never arrived, North End seeing out a fifth away win without incident.