Dave Seddon's big-match verdict
This victory for Preston North End over Rotherham was probably won as much off the pitch as it was on the New York Stadium turf.
A run of games against the Championship’s high-fliers and big-spenders gave way to this Roses battle with bottom-of-the-table Millers.
October’s fixture list had yielded 10 points from the 15 on offer and you could argue that one more was deserved in light of what happened at the end of the Newcastle clash.
The trip to Yorkshire to kick off November could have fallen into the ‘After the Lord Mayor’s show’ category, such is Rotherham’s status.
So not only was a game-plan fashioned at Springfields in the build-up, a lot of focus went on having the correct mind-set.
The word from inside the club was that the squad were reminded on a daily basis of the importance of adopting the same approach which had served them well in the games with Aston Villa, Brighton, Huddersfield Town, Norwich and Newcastle.
Such a formula was to pay dividends, PNE bringing back the points and scoring three goals in an away league game for the first time in more than a year.
If you were to be critical, they could and should have scored more than the three.
At 2-0 up, a lead given to them by headers from Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson, they had three good chances in quick succession to stretch the lead.
A few nerves then jangled as home skipper Richard Wood cut the deficit with 19 minutes remaining.
But a comfortable finish to the game was ensured by a fine goal on the break from supersub Marnick Vermijl.
Victory edged PNE up to 11th place – the position they finished last season in.
Can they go on to better that? Should the sights be set on a push towards the top six?
If Preston can continue to produce the type of consistency they have done since mid-September, then why not?
They might not have the spending power of some of the others in this division but so far this season, I have seen little to be fearful of.
The current top two, Newcastle and Brighton, are there on merit.
Below them, it looks quite an even scrap judging by these first 16 matches.
Leeds and Reading have shown what a good consistent run can do, North End too when you bear in mind they were in the bottom three for the first six or seven weeks of the campaign. While the focus inside the PNE camp was on having the right mentality, a topic which pre-match occupied the minds of the 1,559 travelling supporters who crossed the Pennines was how the team would cope without a ‘tackler’ in midfield.
With Ben Pearson and Alan Browne banned and John Welsh injured, options for the heart of the engine room looked limited.
Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson got the nod to be the central two, flanked by Ben Pringle and the returning Aiden McGeady.
In hindsight, we need not have worried about an apparent lack of bite.
Gallagher sat quite deep and DJ was the driving force forward. Together they won the midfield fight, with possession in PNE’s favour 58%-42%.
It was the second week running in which their time on the ball had been greater, the seven games previous to that seeing the opposition have the lions’ share.
In the second half, they used the ball very well on the counter-attack.
Holes were picked in the Rotherham set-up and space found quite impressively.
The third goal came on the break, the ball won deep in their own half and carried upfield with DJ’s pace.
Johnson’s performance, for me, was right up there in a yellow shirt.
Only McGeady shaded that display, the winger looking like he had never been away on his return from a month out with hamstring trouble.
Both Millers full-backs had a tough time from him, McGeady and Pringle having the licence to swap flanks.
McGeady still looked like there was something left in the tank when substituted in the 89th minute – the game won by then.
The visitors wore black armbands as Remembrance Day approaches – the Wolves game a week on Saturday will see the poppy on their shirts.
Hugill’s and Robinson’s headers came five minutes apart in a first half which PNE had steadily got the better of.
With the clock in the 22nd minute, good approach play saw the ball fed to Pringle on the left wing.
He knocked the ball back to Greg Cunningham whose first-time cross into the box was met by HUGILL, the front man’s header steered across keeper Lee Camp and into the net off the base of the far post.
It was a lead soon doubled, McGeady moving into the box, going on to his left foot and standing up a cross which ROBINSON met with aplomb, powering home a header.
Simon Makienok,on for the limping Hugill, McGeady and Robinson all had chances to score in a five-minute spell.
WOOD pulled one back for the hosts in the 71st minute, Clarke playing him onside as he met Peter Odemwingie’s cross from the left.
But 10 minutes later, the game’s natural order had been restored. DJ took possession on halfway and glided down the left, his low driven centre travelling across the box to VERMIJL who tucked a shot between Camp and the post.
After hitting the woodwork late in the Newcastle game the week before, there was no one more deserving of the goal.
Chris Maxwell 7
Made a decent early save from Danny Ward at 0-0. Has now established himself as PNE’s No.1 keeper.
Alex Baptiste 7
Steady performance at right-back from the loan man. Has certainly been a good addition to the team since September.
Tom Clarke 7
Solid enough performance from the skipper although allowed Wood too much room for Rotherham’s goal.
Bailey Wright 7
Stood up strong when the home side mounted some second-half pressure, producing some no-frills defending.
Greg Cunningham 7
Hard-working display up and down the left-hand side from the Irishman. Great cross for Hugill’s goal.
Aiden McGeady 8
His first game in a month but it did not show, he led the Millers’ back line a merry dance and was PNE’s best player.
Paul Gallagher 8
Played more of a holding midfield role in the absence of others and did it very well. Showed a good passing range.
Daniel Johnson 8
Not far behind McGeady in the man of the match stakes. Drove PNE forward from midfield, set up the third goal.
Ben Pringle 7
Decent enough show against his former club, playing a part in the first goal. Bit sloppy for Rotherham’s goal.
Callum Robinson 8
Full of energy playing in and around the main striker. Scored with a header and could have had a couple more.
Jordan Hugill 7
Great header to put North End in front and he led the line well until injury forced him off in the 55th minute.
Simon Makienok 7
Replaced Hugill up front and his height was to play a key role at the other end when PNE defended set-pieces.
Marnick Vermijl 7
Will be getting the supersub tag at this rate – hit the post last week and came on to score the third goal this time.
Jermaine Beckford 6
A run-the-clock-down sub but could have found himself on the scoresheet late on as PNE pressed for a fourth goal.
Subs (not used): Eoin Doyle, Paul Huntington, Liam Grimshaw, Anders Lindegaard
ROTHERHAM: Camp, Fisher, Fry, Wood, Mattock, Taylor (Brown 76), Ball (Halford 46), Vaulks, Newell, Blackstock (Odemwingie 46), Ward. Subs (not used): Kelly, Forde, Belaid, Price.
Referee: Andy Woolmer 7
Attendance: 10,103 (1,559 PNE)