Dave Seddon's big match verdict

In some ways, Preston's clash with Leeds was your typical end-of-season affair, in others it was far removed from the norm.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 8th May 2016, 1:26 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2016, 1:15 pm
Jordan Hugill watches his equaliser go past Leeds skipper Sol Bamba into the net as Eoin Doyle looks on
Jordan Hugill watches his equaliser go past Leeds skipper Sol Bamba into the net as Eoin Doyle looks on

The first half resembled at times a pre-season friendly in the sunshine between two sides who started the day in 11th and 12th place.

In the second half, the pace picked up markedly to produce a decent game of football, one which North End scored a stoppage-time goal in to earn themselves a deserved share of the spoils.

Off the pitch, things were somewhat different, with a crowd-surfing supporter and a weepy head coach the stand-out points.

We might have witnessed a football first when a Leeds fan went crowd-surfing from bottom to top of the Bill Shankly Kop.

Laid out on a body board, he was passed over heads to the top of the stand and back down again.

How George Whitebread – I’ve pinched that name from Harry Enfield by the way – got his surf board into the ground is another matter but entertaining it certainly was.

The said fan was long gone from Deepdale with his board tucked under his arm when Steve Evans appeared from the tunnel to conduct what appeared to be a long and tearful goodbye.

He held court with the Yorkshire media for more than 20 minutes, red-eyed as he reflected on what was probably his last game as Leeds head coach.

By his standards, Evans had been fairly inactive on the touchline during the match, leaving most of the talking to his loyal assistant Paul Raynor, a winger once of this parish.

If this was his leaving do, with 5,400 noisy Yorkshire folk in tow, then North End spoilt the party.

The contest had reached the second minute of time added on when substitute Jordan Hugill drove home the equaliser which had been coming.

Before that, PNE had seen a goal disallowed and a shot cleared off the line as they looked to restore parity after Chris Wood had put Leeds in front with a penalty.

The spot-kick had been needlessly conceded by Chris Kirkland, sending Luke Murphy sprawling when the midfielder had nowhere to go as he chased an over-hit cross.

It would have been hard on North End had Wood’s penalty sent the three points back over the Pennines.

Thankfully, Hugill is not a player who believes in lost causes.

As Scott Wootton looked to shepherd a hopeful punt from Marnick Vermijl out of play, Hugill chased and put the Leeds substitute under pressure.

Nicking the ball off him, Hugill tried to play in Eoin Doyle, only for Sol Bamba to stretch out a leg to clear.

The ball ran kindly back into his path and the striker took full advantage to drive it into the net.

Not long after, the final whistle blew on North End’s first season back at this level.

So how do we reflect on the 2015/16 campaign which started nine months ago against Middlesbrough?

Eleventh place with 62 points was, I would argue, beyond expectation.

I never thought it would be a scrap to finish fourth from bottom, but to have got so far up is commendable.

They finished above four clubs with Premier League parachute payments, above a number of clubs who have been in the Championship for a good deal longer than them.

They were effectively safe from relegation months ago, bearing in mind that 22nd-placed Charlton finished with 40 points.

Bottom of the table for a few hours in mid-October, they climbed as high as eighth place, flirting with a possible crack at the play-offs.

A dip in results during April saw North End settle into the 11th position in which they found themselves in the final reckoning on Saturday afternoon.

Bear in mind too, they were unable to call on the services of talisman Jermaine Beckford until these last few weeks.

The lengthy absence for Beckford is reflected in the season’s statistics.

Preston scored only 45 goals in their 46 league games, only the bottom three clubs managing less.

Their strength has been at the other end, with just 45 goals conceded – only the top five can better that.

A defensive solidity and a struggle for goals probably meant North End were suited more to playing away.

They collected an equal number of points – 31 – home and away, when usually the trend in football is to be stronger at home.

Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson, who heard his name being chanted from both ends on Saturday, felt this game summed up PNE’s season.

“It probably epitomised what we are this season,” said Grayson.

“I don’t think Leeds looked like scoring too many times, we kept possession of the ball well but just weren’t ruthless enough in their 18-yard box.

“We shot when we should have passed, we passed when we should have shot.

“However, we showed the character to score another late goal.

“A lot of teams might have accepted they were going to lose their last match 1-0 but not my players.

“They battled until the very end and got what they deserved.”

During the first half of the season, an accusing finger got pointed at PNE often about their inability to score late on.

The trend has changed and since the middle of March, they have put points on the board with late goals against QPR, Bolton, Birmingham, Reading and now Leeds.

For the clash against the club he managed for more than three years, Grayson had made just the one change to the side which had seen off Reading the previous week.

Injury meant player of the year Greg Cunningham missed out, Vermijl coming into a re-shaped defence.

Both sides had chances in the first period without ever getting out of second gear.

The atmosphere helped lift the game in the second half, with the Leeds support by far the loudest we have had in the Bill Shankly Kop for quite a while.

The volume from them went up a notch or two more when they took a 78th-minute lead.

When Mirco Antenucci’s cross sailed across the box without anyone getting a head to it, Kirkland chased after it to the left of his goal.

Murphy was in pursuit too and the keeper chose to tackle him a yard from the byline.

He might have got a touch on the ball but it gave Andy Haines a decision to make, the referee pointing to the spot.

WOOD hammered it into the net with Kirkland diving the wrong way.

Luck seemed against PNE when Adam Reach’s smart finish was ruled out – wrongly when seen on the replay – by an offside flag.

HUGILL, on in place of Joe Garner, had the last word though, shooting home from eight yards with a chance he in effect created for himself.