With a glut of returning senior players, plus four new signings, Alex Neil could have been forgiven for feeling a bit dizzy as he put his team sheet together for this visit of the Swans to Deepdale on Saturday.
In the end it led to six changes, including two debutants in the forward department who acquitted themselves well over the course of the game. It was clear from the start that this was yet another set of visitors packed with players of Premier League experience and again shows just how much the Championship is becoming tougher season on season.
For me this increased the importance of the new signings, as I believe leaving it much later would effectively have put us down a notch in terms of quality just by standing still.
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The first half was pretty even, with Swansea’s attempts to play slick football out from the back countermanded by North End’s high press. New boy Jayden Stockley provided an outlet for the midfield that has been sadly lacking in terms of ‘stick-ability’ up top and was ably abetted from the right hand side by fellow newcomer Brad Potts.
This player already looks like a steal to me and I expect him to become a firm favourite with us fans. The second period saw the visitors step up a level as they started to make their quality tell with flowing football; particularly down Preston’s right hand side.
This led to them taking the lead for a five minute period before Daniel Johnson drew the Lilywhites level from the penalty spot after the linesman flagged for a handball from Stockley’s cross.
Preston then took the initiative for a while, with added forward impetus from substitute Sean Maguire forcing a fine double save from the visiting keeper. After that, the harsh-looking sending off of Josh Earl for two yellows late on in the game halted the fightback as the match wound down to an honourable draw.
All things considered I thought North End were good value for their draw against the Swans on a rainy, miserable January afternoon at Deepdale.
Alex Neil certainly had more choices in team selection before the game and gave debuts to Jayden Stockley and Brad Potts.
Both put in decent performances but we found it quite tough going at times against a Swansea side who played some really good football at and looked dangerous once the game had settled down.
It looked like being another defeat for North End when Baker- Richardson tapped in when Swansea were in the ascendancy but a penalty from Daniel Johnson five minutes later saw North End come right back in the game.
The sending off of Josh Earl 10 minutes from time made it a tough end to the game but North End held out and even had a couple of half chances to win it. The manager made six changes from the side that started against Doncaster Rovers in the cup last week and playing the usual 4-2-3-1 North End looked solid if unspectacular in the early stages of the game.
Stockley was winning his fair share of the ball up front and for a lad who has jumped two divisions I thought he acquitted himself really well leading the North End line.
The game was generally played in the middle third for large parts of the first half. North Ends best effort of the first period was a shot from Potts after thirty five minutes which was saved by the keepers legs and at the other end Declan Rudd made an absolutely superb one handed save from a shot from Celina and kept the Swans at bay when they just looked like they we getting on top.
Paul Huntington was replaced at half-time by Josh Earl with Andrew Hughes moving into the centre back slot.
The second half started at a faster pace than the the first period and the visitors were starting to press on the North End goal right form the off. Routledge and Dyer were causing trouble down the flanks and the goal eventually came10 minutes into the second half.
A move down the Swansea left saw Celina lay the ball back for Baker- Richardson and Swansea were in the lead thanks to a tap in. The lead didn’t last long, though, as we were awarded a penalty five minutes later and Daniel Johnson made no mistake sending the keeper the wrong way.
Swansea looked slightly the more dangerous in the final part of the game and North End’s chance diminished slightly when Earl was sent off for two bookable offences.
Nevertheless we defended stoutly and had a couple of half chances at the other end via Maguire and Barkhuizen but the match ended a draw with the visitors, I suspect, disappointed they hadn’t won the game.
A strange game in some ways with so many changes to the team and quite a number of players coming back from injury.
I thought the signs were generally promising but as the manager said before the game, we will need time for the new players to bed in and for the players coming back from injury to get up to match fitness.
The home contingent in the 11,604 inside Deepdale will have gone home reasonably satisfied, I would have thought and I am sure people watching the game would give the visitors the credit that they deserve as I thought Swansea looked a real good Championship team.
All in all not a bad day’s work for Alex Neil and his men with the promise of better times ahead once the new boys settle in and we get everybody match fit.
Games against newly relegated Swansea have been few and far between in recent times with Saturday’s game being only the fourth time since the millennium that the Welsh side had made the journey from the valleys of” the land of their fathers” up to Deepdale.
With Alex Neil making six changes unlike the previous weeks debacle against Doncaster there were so many good performances.
Record signing Brad Potts who was particularly effective in the second half although another debutant Jayden Stockley showed some good touches especially in the air to lead me to believe that we have finally found a targetman in the mould of Jordan Hugill and there will be more to come in the future from the new striker.In the first half there were few clear cut chances and although Swansea passed the ball very well they were contained by our well organised defence.
As has been the case in recent games, Declan Rudd continued his good form and made another superb save to keep the scores level going into the interval. However in the second half he showed the other side of his game when he failed to cleanly gather a high cross an area in which we have struggled a little all season and his battle for the gloves for the rest of the season with Connor Ripley will be an intresting one to follow.
In the second half, the game opened up but it was Swansea who finished it on the front foot following the harsh dismissal of Josh Earl.However our defence aided by man-of-the-match Jordan Storey – another one of Alex Neil’s youngsters –stood firm to keep The Swans at bay.
Similar to the Aston Villa home game I see this as a point gained the only downside being that we have now not won for six matches.