John Smith: I likened the game at Burton on Saturday against the Brewers to the tasting of a fine brew in which although it tasted good it could have been better.
Having said that any brew which gives you a desirable pleasure is always good and three points on the road was a magnificent result for the faithful who braved the inclement weather conditions to cheer their team on.
At the Pirelli Stadium the first half was as flat as a tyre without a puncture but in the second half two goals from Tom Clarke and Daryl Horgan became the sealant for what was a vitally important win which kept us entrenched in the top half of the table.
The first half was basically a non entity but in the second half we had the lion’s share of possession and began to control the game.It was pleasing to see Tom Clarke score a second successive goal at the Pirelli and maintain our 100 per cent record in two visits to this relatively new venue.Clarke is one of our most influential players whose return to the starting line up is a significant boost to morale.
Our next two games are at home and I feel these games and the ones over the Christmas period will shape our destiny for the coming New Year.
If we can steer clear of any further injuries I see no reason why we could not finish mid table or even push for a play-off spot as the division appears wide open despite other teams being on a far higher budget than ourselves.
Alex Neil has put his own stamp on his team since his appointment in the summer and, in general, performances have been far less dour than the ones under some of the previous occupants of the managerial chair. Whether this will be enough to bring the success demanded by an over-expectant support remains to be seen but following this result our ship is still well afloat and not sailing anywhere near choppy waters.
North End produced a workmanlike performance in a very cold East Staffordshire to claim all the points in a battling game at Burton Albion.
The hosts put up a spirited display in parts of the game but two influential substitutions by Alex Neil proved to be the deciding factor in a game played in almost freezing temperatures on one of the coldest grounds in the Championship.
North End played a holding game in the first half happy to hit the Brewers on the break keeping it tight at the back and then moved through the gears in the second half to claim the victory that their tenacity deserved. Although the Burton manager, Nigel Clough, might feel his side were a little unfortunate on the day, North End just had that little bit of pace and class that made all the difference in the end and ensured the points came back home up the A50.
North End started the game defending the end where the 1,200 travelling fans were gathered and playing the usual 4-2-3-1 formation. A tactical change saw Tom Clarke switch to right back and Darnell Fisher move over into the left back position with Ben Davies reverting to his usual slot partnering Paul Huntington at centre back.
To be fair to the home side they probably had most of the ball early in the game and although we worried them when we went forward the home side were playing a very intensive game which it was quite obvious that they would not be able to keep up for the 90 minutes. Jordan Hugill had a half chance early on and Callum Robinson had an effort cleared of the line just before half-time but chances were few and far between with Chris Maxwell only having to make one decent save from Miller in the first half.
Having said that Maxwell failed to reach a ball he came well out of his goal for but was spared his blushes when the effort went wide early in the game. The second half started with North End looking much more offensive and taking the game to Burton more than we had done in the first period.
To be honest the first 20 minutes or so were better but not penetrating enough to convince the travelling fans that North End were going to win the game. However a double change after 18 minutes of the second half saw Josh Harrop and Daryl Horgan replace Alan Browne and Jordan Hugill and from then on there only ever looked liked being one winner.
North End played the ball quicker and on the floor and when a Gallagher corner, won by Horgan , found Clarke the captain reacted first and shot North End into the lead on the ground where he scored the winner last season.
North End had a couple of decent chances, with Robinson hitting the post, before Horgan scored a lovely curler with eight minutes to go and it was game over for the Lilywhites. Burton did manage to pull one back in injury time but it was too little too late and North End had negotiated a tricky fixture against the bottom of the league and come away with the points.
It wasn’t the best game game I have seen this season by a long chalk although games against teams at the bottom seldom are, but credit must go again to Alex Neil who had done his homework on Burton and he played his sub cards just at the right time in the game when Burton were starting to run out of steam.
Not a game that will live long in the memory but an excellent result and a workmanlike performance on what could have been a tricky afternoon.
The win gives North End 11 points from their last five games which is promotion form after Black October when we suffered our injury crisis. With two home games to come North End have every opportunity of clawing back more points on the play-off places and with players returning from injury our season seems to be on an upward curve once again.