Dave Seddon's verdict on PNE's 5-0 hammering of Bristol City
Preston North End chose the ideal night to dish-out their biggest win for more than two years.
It gave their play-hopes a shot in the arm after the draw against Nottingham Forest three days earlier had put a big question mark against them.
While Simon Grayson's men remain outsiders in the race for a place in the top six, this will have energised their pursuit ahead of two tough looking trips to West Yorkshire to face Leeds and Huddersfield in the next 10 days.
They ran riot in the second half against a Bristol City side who by the end looked devoid of confidence and spirit.
Four of the Lilywhites’ goals came in a 21-minute burst after half-time to add to Tom Barkhuizen’s opener.
It was the first time they had scored five goals in a game since beating Crewe 5-1 in March 2015 and the margin of victory was the biggest since a 6-1 win over Carlisle the year before.
At Championship level it was the biggest win since the 6-0 hammering of Cardiff in April 2009 - that is food for thought as PNE went on to reach the play-offs that campaign.
A penny for the thoughts of Bailey Wright at this stage.
What on earth must he have been thinking after this nightmare of a return to the club he served for nine years?
In January he chose to swap the upper reaches of the division for what is now a desperate fight to avoid the drop to League One.
The Australian could not have envisaged such a woeful evening back on familiar turf.
He got a mixed reaction from the Deepdale faithful, some of who clearly remained upset at the manner of his January exit and made their feelings known.
The grass is not always greener as the phrase goes and just at the moment, Wright is finding that to his cost.
Robins head coach Lee Johnson had said pre-match that he would tap into the centre-back’s knowledge of PNE.
Whatever information the pair shared, it did not do the visitors a jot of good.
North End were decent in the first half without giving away any clues of the rout they would dish-out in the second.
Barkhuizen’s 25th minute opener was his sixth goal in as many starts and PNE’s play was worthy of a narrow lead as they went in for a half-time brew.
They went on to run riot, birthday-boy Aiden McGeady scoring from the penalty spot within a minute of the second half beginning.
Tom Clarke headed the third, then Callum Robinson netted twice in four minutes to hammer the final nails in City’s coffin.
Restored to the starting XI together with Alex Baptiste, Robinson was in fine form.
Aside from his two goals, he claimed an assist and won the penalty.
On another day, Robinson could have been man of the match, but that honour went to McGeady on the day he turned 31.
McGeady led the visitors a merry dance for the 71 minutes he was on the pitch before being afforded the chance to put his feet up.
His slide-rule pass in the build-up to the first goal was sublime, so too his foot work to create a shooting chance for himself with the scoreline at 5-0.
The night started rather strangely for North End with keeper Chris Maxwell booked for a third minute foul – out on the wing – on City front man Tammy Abraham.
It got better and better, five times over in fact.
Paul Gallagher and McGeady had already been denied by saves from Frank Fielding when North End took the lead.
McGeady’s weaving run saw him feed the ball to Robinson on the left hand side of the box.
Robinson had the vision to square a pass inside to Barkhuizen who guided home a low left-foot shot from 12 yards, one which wrong-footed Fiedling.
The visitors’ best chance fell to Wright, his shot on the turn forcing a very good diving save from Maxwell.
Speaking post-match, Grayson revealed he told his players during the interval that they had to be better on the ball.
They were indeed, from the opening seconds in fact.
Bearing in mind City took kick-off to get the second half underway, it was quick work from Preston to be winning a penalty 30 seconds later.
Barkhuizen’s pass released Robinson in the box and as he got the ball under control, Aden Flint’s blocked halted his progress
Referee Andrew Madley pointed to the spot, McGeady confidently dispatching the penalty past Fielding who went the right way but could not reach it.
They stretched the lead in the 54th minute, Gallagher whipping in a free-kick from the right channel which skipper Clarke met with a thumping header from inside the six-yard box which flew into the net giving Fielding no chance.
Within 10 minutes the home side got their fourth, and what a flowing team goal it was.
Jordan Hugill got possession on the left and fed a ball inside to Robinson who laid it off to Gallagher just inside the Robins half.
Gallagher played a fine pass to Barkhuizen down the right channel, a slip from City left-back Joe Bryan affording the former Morecambe man space to run into.
Barkhuizen got into the box and could have shot but unselfishly rolled a great ball across the area which took out the keeper and last covering defender, leaving Robinson with the simple task of side-footing into the net.
He was quickly on the scoresheet again to make it 5-0, Gallagher playing a corner on the right short to McGeady who crossed low to the near post.
The ball squirmed under a defender and into the path of Robinson who finished from five yards at the near post.
Six games to go, five points the gap to make up – hang on to your hats!