Dave Seddon's verdict on PNE's win at Birmingham

Alex Neil has steadily been ticking the necessary boxes since becoming Preston North End boss.

Sunday, 17th September 2017, 3:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:52 am
Jordan Hugill scores Preston's second goal

First goal, first home win, first away point, first win by a comfortable margin, first test without key players – all were on his ‘to-do’ list.

On Saturday he was able to add a first away victory and a first dressing-room telling-off to the list.

The 3-1 scoreline against Birmingham at St Andrews told only part of the story.

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Josh Earl in action for PNE at Birmingham

Some harsh words were needed from Neil during the interval to get PNE playing in the manner required to find a way into the game.

They trailed at half-time, the first-half display lacking a bit of fight and energy.

In contrast, North End were excellent in the second, for a spell Birmingham found them almost unplayable.

Three goals were squashed into an 11-minute spell either side of the hour mark as the visitors turned the contest on its head.

Daniel Johnson with Jordan Hugill after PNE's equaliser at Birmingham

The consequences of being on the wrong end of that turn around were severe for Blues boss Harry Redknapp, in that it cost him his job.

It was the end of his short reign in the Midlands which grabbed the headlines in the hours after the game.

That meant PNE passing under the radar yet again, the fact they won being very much overlooked by the footballing world in general.

It was all Harry this, Harry that afterwards, the inquest into why a £16m spending spree had gone spectacularly wrong.

Alex Neil with Harry Redknapp on the touchline

The part PNE played in the final act barely got a word, it very much the sideshow to events after the final whistle.

Yet this was a victory which moved them up to fourth, a second win in five days in which they had scored three goals both times.

This was their fifth game unbeaten, with only two goals shipped in that run.

But is anyone outside of Preston taking any notice?

Josh Earl in action for PNE at Birmingham

It seems not and remaining off radar might actually suit Neil and his men.

Saying that, not seeming to get an ounce of credit borders on the annoying side.

Here is a squad, put together at budget, performing very well under the watch of the driven Neil.

It is a squad not running at full capacity due to injuries to key players, yet in the middle of September, North End sit in their highest league position for eight years.

Supporters are talking of the attacking play being some of the most exciting they have watched from a Preston side for many a year.

For a half-hour spell in the second half, they moved the ball at pace and pinned their hosts back to great effect.

Daniel Johnson with Jordan Hugill after PNE's equaliser at Birmingham

That was in contrast to the opening 45 minutes in which North End struggled to get into the contest – hence the half-time hair dryer from Neil.

Positional changes, as well as the flea in the ear, helped swing things back in their favour too.

The attacking line behind Jordan Hugill were switched at the interval.

They had started with Josh Harrop as the No.10, flanked by Sean Maguire on the right and Tom Barkhuizen on the left.

The change at half-time saw Harrop go to the left, Maguire into the 10 role, and Barkhuizen on the right.

All three from their new positions were instrumental in the goals.

Barkhuizen set the ball rolling for a run and superb finish from Daniel Johnson for Preston’s equaliser.

Jordan Hugill’s goal which put them in front came after great hussling by Barkhuizen and a fine Harrop pass.

Maguire then put the ball on a plate for Barkhuizen to steer in the third goal.

Rapid-fire stuff indeed, the net found three times from the 56th to the 67th minute.

All were scored at the end housing the 1,700 travelling Preston fans who were there to witness a first away win since January.

Quite what happened in the first half, is open to debate.

North End never got going, perhaps it being a hangover from the Cardiff win or that Birmingham simply had the edge on them.

The hosts drew first blood, Maxine Colin chasing a long ball down the left channel.

Having turned Maguire on the side of the box, COlin stepped inside and hit a shot which clipped skipper Paul Huntington and flew past Chris Maxwell.

Hugill should have done better with a chance before the break, Harrop playing him in with a pass after taking the ball off home sub Liam Walsh.

If the first half had been chalk, the second was cheese in terms of PNE’s play.

Shots from Maguire and Harrop which at least worked the keeper, were perhaps a hint as to what would follow.

The equaliser came in the 56th minute, as Barkhuizen won the ball on half-way, close to the touchline.

Moving inside, he over-ran the ball but it was picked up by Johnson who moved through the gears in midfield.

Reaching the edge of the ‘D’, Johnson swept a fine finish with his left-foot into the bottom corner.

As a former Aston Villa man, DJ was not going to let the moment pass quickly.

His celebrations earned a yellow card from referee Keith Stroud, let’s just say that the midfielder milked it near to the Birmingham fans.

As the contest hit the hour mark, North End went in front.

Barkhuizen snapped away at Colin as the first-half scorer dwelt too long on the ball just outside the box.

When he lost possession, the ball came to Harrop who played a pass out to Hugill on the right hand side of the box.

Hugill took a touch and let fly with a shot which got a touch off Walsh on its way into the net.

You could say the goal was a Bullseye-style ‘look what you could have won’ moment for Redknapp.

Birmingham wanted Hugill in the summer – bidding twice for his services – there almost being an air of inevitability that he would score.

The third goal was passing at its best, Johnson’s slide-rule ball freeing Maguire behind the home defence in the box.

As the keeper came out to narrow the angle, Maguire squared a pass into the path of Barkhuizen who side-footed into the empty net from six yards.

Alex Neil with Harry Redknapp on the touchline