Dave Seddon's verdict on Preston North End's away win at Nottingham Forest
There is something satisfying and deeply rewarding about a 1-0 away victory.
Don’t get me wrong, a 4-1 derby win or a 4-3 thriller at home are welcome with open arms too.
But can you beat the thrill of the away-day joy of the type Preston had at Nottingham Forest – the digging-in, the tactical battle, the excitement of the ball hitting the back of the net and finally the relief of the final whistle sounding?
North End did a job on their in-form hosts and left the City Ground with three welcome points in the bag.
It was the perfect response to the defeat at Birmingham, redemption for a well-below-par afternoon at St Andrew’s.
PNE moved from west to east across the Midlands and put in a performance which was chalk and cheese to that of a week earlier.
Whereas they rolled over against Birmingham, this time they rolled up their sleeves and battled.
They dug in during the first half and at times rode their luck, regrouped during the interval, then found a way to win it in the second half.
It was done against the odds when you bear in mind Forest’s form – unbeaten in seven league matches going into Saturday – and Alex Neil’s selection restrictions.
His starting XI included a right-back wearing a mask to protect a nasty facial injury, a midfielder returning to action a fortnight after being ruled out for three times as long and a keeper fresh from dropping the most public of clangers.
Neil lost a winger to injury inside half-an-hour and had to replace him with a striker playing out of position.
When you take all that into account, it was little wonder that the Preston boss – not a man who generally shows too much emotion – sported a grin like a Cheshire cat after the clash.
Neil had every reason to smile, his patched-up team carrying out the game-plan to the letter.
He saw Louis Moult score his first Championship goal as a starter – the five previous had been after coming off the bench – in doing so taking a big stride forward in terms of his confidence.
More than 1,400 Preston fans were there to share the joy with Neil and his team, a handful of them enjoying it that little bit too much when the goal went in.
Neil’s men did away victories by slender margins rather well last season.
Six of the 10 wins on their travels were achieved with 2-1 or 1-0 scorelines.
Until this weekend they had just the one away win to celebrate – a 1-0 success at Bristol City – so to record another was a big boost.
Forest fans will argue that their team’s defeat was an undeserved one.
They would have a strong case in terms of the raw statistics, the home side having 61% of the ball and 15 efforts at goal to PNE’s eight.
But they got only four of those on target, one more than the visitors did.
The all-important stat was that North End made one of their attempts count, Moult doing so from close range.
For all Forest’s possession and play around the box, only twice did they seriously test Declan Rudd.
They did that once in each half, Rudd combining with Tom Clarke to divert a Matty Cash effort wide, then later clawing a deflected Lewis Grabban header past the post.
With Rudd’s counterpart Costel Pantilimon called into action twice, perhaps when push came to shove this was not quite the smash-and-grab which the home support imagined.
If last week at Birmingham, North End had perhaps felt a bit sorry for themselves in terms of who was missing, the teamsheet on Saturday gave them a lift.
Three key players came back in the shape of Ben Davies, the masked Clarke and Daniel Johnson.
What was giveth was taketh away though, in the sense that Brandon Barker clutched his hamstring with 25 minutes gone and played no further part.
Barker’s departure brought Lukas Nmecha into the action, one Manchester City loanee for another.
Inadvertently it proved to be a game-changer in that Nmecha put in a shift which was well beyond his 19 years.
He played initially on the right-hand side of the attack, Tom Barkhuizen moving over to take Barker’s left-wing slot.
Nmecha tracked back, he tackled, he battled, he ran and then set up Moult to score.
When Moult was given a breather later on, Nmecha moved up front, held the ball up and displayed some fine game management.
Starman? He wasn’t far off, neither were several others.
I settled on Moult for his goal and graft, this a striker so different to the lad who we saw struggling to make an impact in his opening few months in a Preston shirt.
The goal came 11 minutes after the interval, PNE having won a corner on the right.
Paul Gallagher’s delivery dropped short of the near post, bouncing between Nmecha and Cash.
Nmecha pushed it to the byline and pulled the ball low into the six-yard box, Moult sliding in to knock it over the line from close range.
It was all a bit chaotic in the aftermath, stewards sat on a fan who had climbed over the hoardings and a blue smoke flare thrown on.
credit the players calmed things, Gallagher in particular adopting the role of special envoy to the Trent End.
Before that, in fact for much of the first half, PNE had been on the back foot.
Forest had moved the ball well to get themselves into some promising positions around the Preston box. But that box was defended well, Neil’s tactic having been to push Forest wide and then get heads and bodies in the way of the crosses which came over.
He reasoned that although Forest had been free-scoring of late, they didn’t have a major presence in the middle.
Davies was excellent in the main against Lewis Grabban, Huntington solid next to him.
Special mention to Clarke in his ‘Zorro’ mask who didn’t allow his broken hooter and a terribly swollen upper lip to hamper his defending.
Behind the defence, Rudd dealt with what he had to and repaid the faith shown in him by Neil.