Dave Seddon's verdict on PNE's defeat against Norwich
You get the impression that Simon Grayson did a spot of Bank Holiday Do-It-Yourself in response to the lacklustre show from his Preston North End side in the first half against Norwich City yesterday.
Had he redecorated the walls of the home dressing room with a subtle shade of tea and coffee, that would have been totally understandable.
What the Lilywhites served up for 45 minutes of this Easter Monday clash was reason enough to see the teacups go flying in rage.
North End were dreadful for the first period and went in at the interval two goals down.
It would have been three but for keeper Chris Maxwell coming out on top of a one-on-one with Alex Pritchard just before the whistle went.
Grayson’s half-time blast inspired a better display in the second half and for a while it looked like PNE might get something from the game.
Tommy Spurr’s header halved the deficit but they had left themselves with too much to do and it was the Canaries who restored their two-goal cushion in stoppage time to ensure the long journey back to Norfolk past that little bit quicker.
“It was the angriest I had been at half-time for a long time,” said Grayson.
For those 45 minutes, North End were a shadow of the side who had got themselves to within reach of the play-offs, only to fall away in the last 10 days.
They could not string together more than a couple of passes and looked open at the back.
It might have been that Greg Cunningham’s early exit on a stretcher had an effect, both in terms of their play and from a mental point of view.
By full-time we had learned it was a fractured leg which the Irishman had suffered, the second serious injury to hit the squad over the Easter break, following on from Tom Clarke’s ruptured Achilles tendon at Huddersfield.
Even without two very key players, Preston needed to be better than this.
Norwich, being managed on an interim basis by former PNE boss Alan Irvine, did not have to work for their two goals in the first half, scored by Graham Dorrans and Josh Murphy.
Mitigation for the third goal which came in the 93rd minute was that the hosts were caught on the break when pushing up field in search of an equaliser.
No blame there, better to have had a go than not at all.
The damage was done in that first half though, much to the frustration of Grayson and indeed the home crowd.
North End had actually started the contest quite well, Aiden McGeady forcing John Ruddy into a save with his feet inside 90 seconds.
Cunningham was hurt in a challenge with Steve Naismith in the 11th minute.
It is testament to his bravery that even with a fractured tibia, the left-back tried to run off the pain and carry on.
When he went down again, Cunningham was treated on the touchline and stretchered off to the dressing room to warm applause.
Spurr replaced him from the bench – he had also been an early replacement for Clarke on Good Friday.
As North End adjusted to the change, Norwich grew into the game and took the lead in the 28th minute.
Naismith’s lay-off outside the box after a corner had been partly cleared, found Dorrans who drilled a low shot into the net with the help of a slight deflection.
PNE were flat and seemed to have no answer to Norwich’s good movement.
The lead was doubled five minutes before the interval, Murphy left unmarked in the box to collect Cameron Jerome’s flick and pick his spot past Maxwell.
With Grayson’s words still ringing in their ears, the home side improved in the second half – in all fairness they could not have been worse than they had been in the first.
Spurr gave them hope in the 67th minute by netting his first goal in PNE colours since last summer’s move from Blackburn.
It was Paul Gallagher with the assist, the skipper’s free-kick from the left met by Spurr who guided a header across Ruddy into the far corner.
Tom Barkhuizen and Paul Huntington went close soon after in what was PNE’s purple patch of the half, Barkhuizen looking certain to score at the far post from a Callum Robinson cross, only to be denied by a great last-gasp challenge by Naismith.
Norwich wrapped things up in time added on, breaking three on two – substitute James Maddison shooting past Maxwell after Nelson Oliveria and Naismith had linked up.
So was inflicted a first league home defeat since Boxing Day and with it coming on the back of successive away reverses, a season which promised so much is in danger of petering out.