In Edward Lear’snonsense poem, the owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beatiful pea green boat.
But the Owls who were competing on Deepdale’s lush green pitch were sunk without trace following a serious home performance where we were no pussy cats and fought like tigers in what was at times a bruising encounter.
This was epitomised by man-of-the-match Ben Pearson our very own Tasmanian Devil whose bite was a major contribution towards us winning the battle in the middle of the park.
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We were very sharp and passed the ball well with Alex Neil’s change of style to a short passing game being a pleasure to watch at times and a noticeable difference to the more dour style of the previous manager.
The first half had very few clear cut chances but we more than matched our opponents on a much better playing budget than ourselves and fancied to do well this term. In the second half , we were far the better side and began to dominate the game.
No football fan wants to lose on the opening day of the season and for a change we were not dissappointed.The goal came from the penalty spot towards the end when Daniel Johnson strolled up as laid back as can be to stroke the ball home.The end result of three points on the board made it a satisfiying start to what looks, on paper, a tricky start to the season.
Opening games of the season can often produce strange results but there was nothing strange about how Preston started this league campaign with an excellent 1-0 over much fancied Sheffield Wednesday.
North End won in all three areas of the pitch with the defence looking solid, the midfield dominating and the front players causing the Owls many more problems than their counterparts from South Yorkshire. It took a Daniel Johnson penalty late in the game to clinch all three points for Alex Neil’s boys but the scoreline line in no way flattered North End on what was a hugely encouraging start to the season.
I’m sure that the home fans, in a gate of 18,267 went home thinking they had value for money and probably cannot wait for the next game to see how this team is going to develop.It was the usual 4-2-3-1 for Neil with Tommy Spurr getting the nod over Ben Davies and Sean Maguire leading the attack with Jordan Hugill having to be satisfied with a place on the bench.
The first half was not packed with chances in all honesty but the game started at a fairly high tempo with North End taking the game to the visitors and showing no fear whatsoever against a team tipped to be in the top six again at the end of the season. Robinson had a free kick that just went wide of the left hand post and Maguire was in the inside left position just before the break but his shot was saved by Westwood.
At the other end Maxwell had very little to do in the opening period with the defence looking organised and having the benefit of having Ben Pearson playing in front of them. After the break the game opened up a little but it was always North End who were looking the more likely to break the deadlock with Robinson and Barkhuizen causing Wednesday plenty of problems down the flanks.
A curling shot from the left by Robinson went very close as the visitors shuffled it round to try and win the game. Ross Wallace came close with a free kick but apart from that and a couple of punches clear, Maxwell was untroubled for the vast majority of the game. North End brought on Hugill and Gallagher and former started causing problems for the big centre backs.
With just 10 minutes left Hugill was bundled over in the box and after a little deliberation up stepped Daniel Johnson with the spot kick to send Westwood the wrong way and give North End all three point and get us off to a flyer. Hugill had the ball in the net shortly after but the goal was disallowed and we saw the game out quite comfortably through the added five minutes.
The perfect start, then, for Alex Neil and his team and an excellent afternoon for the 12,800 North End fans inside the stadium. I thought the home attendance was slightly disappointing after all the work the club have put in but it is holiday time and perhaps if the team carries on playing like this it will not be too long before the home support starts to grow even further.
Let’s not get too carried away, though, as one swallow does not make a summer and a glance at the fixture list tells us that the next three games are all away in the space of eight days.
Nevertheless this was an encouraging a start as I have seen for many a year and if North End can build on what we saw at Deepdale on Saturday then we are in for a cracking season.
A fair but narrow score line should not be allowed to hide how much North End deserved this win over an old foe from across the Pennines.
The hosts showed a hunger the visitors lacked despite, or maybe because of, the wages and transfer fees rattling around the Wednesday squad.
Overall Preston created the better chances and more attacking moves up front, whilst you could be forgiven for forgetting that opposition strikers like Jordan Rhodes and Fernando Forestieri were even on the pitch.
A good crowd boosted by a Kop full of away fans meant a good atmosphere filled Deepdale, as both sets of fans set about cheering on their own team with the kind of optimism so common in the opening game. And, for once, it was the home fans who went away happy with the three points in the bag – a bit of a rarity for long suffering Lilywhite supporters.
Of the debutants, both Darnell Fisher and Sean Maguire played well and can be pleased with their performances in the famous white shirt. Maguire appears to be one of those natural types of strikers whilst Fisher looks unflustered – always a good quality in a defender.
For me though, the player that stood out the most was Tommy Spurr. Used as a squad player last season and often having to fill-in as an emergency left back; here he was in his best position as a central defender and somewhat filled the big boots left by the serious injury to captain Tom Clarke. He has bided his time and stayed ultra-professional and may now be getting his rewards under new management.
Speaking of which, the much-vaunted change in style to a more attacking one felt more like an ‘evolution’, rather than a ‘revolution’, for which this fan is grateful.
Trying to bring in radical change with the same squad of players has often met with disaster and so it is pleasing to see Alex Neil approaching this in a sensible fashion.
As for the match itself, a pretty even first half gave way to a much more exciting second that saw Preston become more dominant as the game wore on. A fully justified penalty was the least the hosts deserved following some close calls that included Spurr heading against the bar a few minutes earlier.
Up stepped Daniel Johnson and a cheeky slow roll in to the opposite corner of the keeper’s dive saw all of the goodies coming home.
Let’s hope we can now build on this, with the potential banana skin in Accrington on Tuesday night followed up by the tough trip to Elland Road next Saturday. Welcome back to the hustle and bustle of Championship football!