The fans' panel: PNE 0, Norwich City 0
Three PNE supporters have their say on the draw against the Canaries at Deepdale
An ill-timed stalemate leaves North End relying on others as the Championship play-off race moves into the penultimate phase at Bramall Lane next Saturday.
The boys were left to reflect on the squandering of two or three really good chances as we failed to break down a well organised Norwich City side at Deepdale.
A Paul Gallagher free kick in the first half, a Billy Bodin shot in the second followed by a Sean Maguire header were North End’s opportunities to take the points in a game where I would say we were the better team without really looking like we were going to take all three points. Norwich looked useful particularly on the break but neither side produced that moment of magic as North End are, just about, left to fight another day.
It was quite a cagey opening period but home side looked the more likely with Callum Robinson having a chance early on as North End looked to score the first goal which seems very important in the Championship these days.
Our best chance of the half came after half an hour when Gallagher worked a free kick with Bodin and his shot hit the underside of the crossbar only to bounce away to safety as the crowd of 13,038 inside Deepdale held it’s breath. I have to say that the home fans inside Deepdale on Saturday were the loudest that they have been for quite some time and I am sure that the players appreciated their support.
North End were forced into a substitution at half time with Ben Davies replacing Paul Huntington who took a knock in the first half and wasn’t fit enough to resume after the break.
We started to take the game to the Canaries and just before the hour Alex Neil replaced Gallagher and Tom Barkhuizen with Maguire and Josh Harrop to see if they could make the breakthrough. Bodin had a great chance for North End as he cut in from the right and with a clear left foot shot inexplicably missed the target as the crowd waited for the net to bulge.
With 10 minutes to go Maguire was left free but his header was weak when it seemed he had all the time in the world to score the goal that would have given North End the win they so desperately needed.
With other results being generally not too bad, North End actually gained a point on sixth place and sit just two points behind with two games to go. There is no doubt now, though, that we must win the last two games and hope for some favours from other teams.
Just what the defence will look like at Sheffield next week is anyone’s guess as Huntington came off at half time and Clarke played for a long period with a strapped up hamstring after all our subs had been used.
Nevertheless it should be a cup final atmosphere down at the Lane next Saturday with North End backed by more than 2,000 fans and the Blades with an outside chance of squeezing in themselves. It’s now or never for North End but whatever happens the boys have done superb to take it to game 45
Nelson Mandella once quoted “It always seems impossible until its done”.
After Saturday’s results we were left in the position of being two points of achieving our play-off dream with two games to play.
So like the famous African revolutionary leader, we should never give up our hopes. To still be in the play-off race at this stage of the season is a remarkable achievement given the fact that we have had to contend with long term injuries to several key players in what has been a gruelling season for Alex Neil’s troops.
Although we could not find the net against Norwich we did have chances but ultimately our inconsistent home form and lack of a killer instinct looks like being our downfall in our quest for play off glory.Skipper Tom Clarke was a rock in our defence bravely playing on with a hamstring injury and was awarded the man-of-the-match award for his endeavours.
However, personally I would have given it to Darnell Fisher who turned in an immense performance and in my opinion is possibly our best free transfer signing since a certain Youl Mawene and has the potential to become just as popular with the fans over the next few seasons.
The last time we reached the play offs at this level nine years ago under Alan Irvine, Mawene was part of an ageing spine of the side who had reached their peak. He partnered Sean St Ledger and further up we had Paul McKenna and Barry Nicholson with Chris Brown and Jon Parkin our central strike force.
This season we have younger partnerships in these positions with Huntington and Davies at the back Pearson and Browne in the middle and Barkhuizen and Maguire up front.All these players have had an outstanding season and this bodes well for the future even if we don’t suceed this time round but for the moment the dream is not impossible.
The story of the season so far continued at Deepdale on Saturday, albeit bathed in a hot and glorious spring day.
North End created a number of clear-cut goal scoring opportunities, especially in the second half, but failed to convert them into the all important goals-for column to yet again drop points on home soil.
With three matches remaining at the start of play and with three wins needed to realistically keep our playoff hopes alive, I feel sure that in any other season this would have been the end of the dream for another year.
Remarkably though, results elsewhere meant we edged a point nearer to the dotted line although it must be said that the already thin thread got a little thinner with three teams (yes, three!) still ahead of us in that two point gap.
What is in no doubt, however, is that failure to beat Sheffield United away next Saturday will mean the players can pack their flip-flops and book their flights to the sunshine. This fan for one has completely given up the prediction game and is worried his GP may be upping his blood pressure medication!
As to the match, the pattern was one of the visitors keeping more possession but without a single shot on target all afternoon, with the hosts creating good chances, mainly on the break. Billy Bodin was very lively in the first period, cutting in a number of times from on the right wing in dangerous positions to get shots off.
The same player was involved in the best chance of the half as he switched wings and was fouled on a diagonal run towards the box. The free kick was a golden Paul Gallagher type of chance for an ‘over the wall’ direct strike on goal.
This he did but the bar was struck with the keeper beaten and it bounced to safety. In the second half, subs Josh Harrop and Sean Maguire had a positive effect on the Lilywhites’ attacking play, but we couldn’t break the deadlock and so onto South Yorkshire... if my nerves can take it!