Dave Seddon's verdict on PNE's defeat to Wolves
Where's the starting-point in analysing this feisty contest at Molineux?
It could be Preston’s failure to press home their advantage when they were right on top of the game, Wolves in contrast squashing three goals into a 19-minute spell when they rallied – a lesson to be learned.
Alternatively, the focus might be trained on a gutsy comeback from Alex Neil’s men which saw them cut the deficit to a single goal and had their hosts wobbling in a real ripsnorter of a finish.
Had they equalised in that finale, there would have been few grounds for complaints from those in old gold.
Or do we look at some of the decisions made by referee Stephen Martin who it has to be said, did not enjoy the best afternoon’s whistling.
Granted, he needed eyes in the back of his head at times as this was not the easiest of games to referee, but better is surely expected of a Select Group 2 official?
Summoning Alan Browne back from the dressing room to show him the red card after the midfielder had accepted his fate for two bookings, was bordering on the pompus.
Browne had trudged off with Mr Martin having pulled the yellow and red cards from his pocket.
But before he could hold the cards aloft, a brawl broke out nearby which required sorting out.
The delay in between was such that it would not have been a surprise had Browne walked back to the side of the pitch wrapped in towel after already being in the shower!
All-in-all this was a thriller, packed full of incident and at times some very good football.
It was worthy of the tag of being the Championship’s game of the day, the teams first and fifth respectively at the start of play.
PNE were to slip two places as a consequence of their first defeat since August 15.
But so easily could the gap between them and Wolves have been closed or at least stayed the same had they found their scoring touch earlier rather than later in the day.
Like they had done against Fulham the week before, Alex Neil’s imposed themselves on their hosts in the first half.
While PNE scored twice in London when bossing things, in the Midlands they did not.
Daniel Johnson had two chances in the first half hour, the first of which forced Wolves keeper John Ruddy into a good save.
The second DJ put too high from eight yards, that one he should have put away.
That missed opportunity you could say was a turning point in the game.
Wolves snatched the lead with their first effort on target on the stroke of half-time.
Then they found the net twice in four minutes either side of the hour.
Were the league leaders more ruthless?
Three goals would suggest so but the build-up to their first was littered with good fortune, the second came from the spot with Preston maybe harshly done by, then the third went in off the chest of Leo Bonatini after Chris Maxwell had pulled-off a good save.
They all count though, and North End have to make their chances count when they come along.
If at times Neil’s men do lack a clinical edge, what they have in abundance is fight and bottle.
Even at 3-0 down they were not for giving this one up, there was no acceptance of the game being lost and no temptation to go down the road of damage limitation in the final stages.
A header from Jordan Hugill gave them a glimmer of hope, then Conor Coady’s own goal made it all so interesting.
Even down to 10 men in injury-time, they were on the front foot in search of parity.
Frustratingly in the nine minutes of added-on time – six were signalled just as the brawl broke out – PNE didn’t put as many balls into the box as they would have liked to cause danger.
From kick-off, North End had put their high press into play to knock Wolves out of their slick passing stride.
It forced the home side into mistakes, two of which led to the visitors’ best chances of the first half.
A stray pass out from the back was picked up by Ben Pearson who squared a pass inside to Johnson.
His low shot from 20 yards was palmed behind by Ruddy diving to his left.
Hugill’s slide-tackle on a dithering Roderick Miranda saw the ball break to the feet of Tom Barkhuizen who took it down the right hand side of the box and pull it low into the middle.
It was slightly behind DJ who scooped it over the bar with his weaker right foot.
Against the run of play, the home side took the lead in the 44th minute.
There were ricochets off Harrop and Darnell Fisher in the build-up, Barry Douglas’ cross bundled home by Ivan Cavaleiro at the back post.
The game was effectively taken away from Preston by two goals in quick succession.
In the 59th minute, Harrop running back towards his own goal tried to volley clear a ball over the top.
He knocked it into the air and Matt Doherty latched on to it to run into the box.
Harrop got something on the ball as he slid in to tackle but referee Martin was quick to award a penalty.
Bonatini I stepped-up to tuck it past Maxwell who went the right way.
When Jota broke into the box soon after to meet a fine diagonal pass, Maxwell made a great block with his legs.
Unluckily, the ball bounced up, hit Bonatini in the chest and rolled into the net.
Within two minutes PNE had pulled a goal back, Browne switching feet and curling in a left-footed cross from the right channel.
Hugill stole in front of Danny Batth to send a header past Ruddy from seven yards.
Their second goal came in the 76th minute when a Ben Davies free-kick dropped over the Wolves backline.
Barkhuizen chased it to the byline and cut it back from the side of the six-yard box, the ball clipping Coady’s heel and rolling over the line.
Browne, booked earlier for a challenge on Reuben Neves, walked in the 90th minute for bringing down Alfred N’Diaye as he broke away.