IT has been a bit of an upside down type of week for Preston North End.
In effect, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy team became the FA Cup side and beat a club from the Championship.
Then an XI with the strength normally reserved for League One got the nod to play in the JPT and were undone late on by Walsall.
We await with interest the personnel on duty for this afternoon’s league visit to Sheffield United – a mix of last Saturday and Wednesday night I would assume.
With the JPT, is it a case of so near yet so far?
It is certainly advantage Walsall at ‘half-time’ in the northern area final.
I do love the half-time analogy in two-leg matches, the vision of an interval lasting for a day shy of three weeks.
At least that would give you time to queue up for a brew and pie without fear of missing the start of the second half.
While the odds are in favour of the Saddlers, I would not be ruling the Lilywhites out of the tie just yet.
The first goal at the Bescot Stadium, if indeed there is one, will be key.
If Walsall score it, that is game over, simple as.
But should it be North End finding the net, home hearts will be twitching and Simon Grayson’s men are then just a goal away from being back on level terms.
Sounds terribly simple doesn’t it? However, this is PNE and knock-out football which traditionally do not go hand-in-hand.
To reach the JPT final at Wembley would be lovely, after all, going there in the play-offs would reduce many in this parish to nervous wrecks bearing in mind Preston’s relationship with the end-of-season shindig.
The priority is automatic promotion though...100%...no argument.
Going back to Wednesday night, the outcome and mood could have been so different. Had any of those first-half chances gone in and it would be with a high level of confidence that Preston head down the M6 on January 27.
The second half was rather a non-event, that was until the visitors struck twice in the last six minutes, ruthlessly taking advantage of PNE slip-ups.
Putting the substitutions made by Grayson under the microscope, they did not work on the night.
The enforced withdrawal of Jermaine Beckford because of a hamstring tweak was a key moment for me.
North End’s best spell of the second half came with Paul Gallagher in the supporting No.10 role behind Beckford.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, the replacement for Beckford, is not designed for the lone striker role you would suspect.
So he got company in the shape of Jack King, who in all fairness, was no stranger to a forward role in his first season at Deepdale.
The pairing did not work on this occasion, that said, the service up to them was pretty much non-existent.
Five days earlier, Grayson’s substitutions had been key in beating Norwich.
His introduction of Chris Humphrey and Beckford broke the lock after it had been patiently picked at in the preceding hour.
Some you win, some you don’t, that is the nature of competitive sport.
The victory over Norwich meant Preston marched on into the fourth round of the FA Cup, their opponents a fortnight today being the same as this afternoon – Sheffield United.
Although not a headline grabber nor a ground-filler, while I doubt there will be a half-and-half scarf salesman in sight, I think it is a decent enough tie.
It is at home, and before anyone groans how that did them no good in midweek, let us remember the Walsall loss was the first time since March 17 that Preston had not scored at Deepdale.
With the opponents being from the same division, it goes into the ‘winnable’ category and should that indeed happen, the odds of landing a Premier League side in the fifth round, shorten.
In general, I did find the third round of the FA Cup enjoyable and life remains in the famous old competition.
Certain things could have been better, drawing it out from Friday to Tuesday was excessive, while the use of the peach ball is just nonsense.
Something else to grate was the constant harping back to the 1988 final ahead of AFC Wimbledon playing Liverpool.
The national media also thought they had dug up an exclusive by reporting that Adebeyo Ankinfenwa was a touch on the chunky side.
Old news surely except to anyone wearing Premier League blinkers – the national media.