Match report: Burton Albion 1, Preston North End 2
For a second game running Alex Neil rolled the dice with a double substitution and hit the jackpot.
Last weekend it was Josh Harrop and Kevin O’Connor answering the call from the bench at half-time in a tactical reshuffle which helped down Queens Park Rangers.
On Saturday Daryl Horgan and Harrop got half an hour at the Pirelli Stadium, sufficient to play their part in getting the better of bottom club Burton.
Horgan played the starring role in freezing Staffordshire, his pace getting the Brewers all in a froth.
Capping it all off was a first goal of the campaign from the Irishman which effectively clinched victory.
His effort, swept home from the edge of the box, came after Tom Clarke had drilled North End in front soon after Horgan’s entrance.
The hosts were to grab an injury-time consolation but it was purely academic.
It didn’t prevent Neil’s men from collecting a fourth away win on the road, one which stretched their unbeaten run to five matches.
The upturn in fortunes has run parallel with the return of players from injury.
When PNE lost four games on the spin, Neil asked to be cut some slack as the walking wounded were patched up.
He had every faith that the form would take a turn for the better once the squad had a healthier look about it.
The last few results have proved that Neil’s thinking was on the right lines, three wins and two draws secured since the international break.
To win at the homely Pirelli for a second time in 11 months, the Lilywhites had to display different sides to their play.
They had to battle and for a spell in the first half, stand firm against a lively Albion side who were quick out of the blocks and not at all lacking in confidence – that surprising for a side which has now lost seven on the bounce at home.
Once the first hour was out of the way, North End moved up a couple of gears, aided by Horgan and Harrop’s arrival.
Top scorer Jordan Hugill and No.10 Alan Browne gave way, Neil going for a different approach to manoeuvre Burton’s defence out of position.
Horgan took up duties on the left-wing, Harrop going behind Tom Barkhuizen who had moved up front.
With Callum Robinson occupying the right, the new-look quartet asked some serious questions of Burton almost straight away.
Four minutes after the double change, Preston took the lead.
That put them on the front foot to the extent that the win should have been beyond doubt long before Horgan struck in the 83rd minute.
At 2-0 they had chances to stretch the lead further, Robinson denied first by a top-drawer save and then the base of the post.
Burton’s consolation took a thin coat of gloss off, as Bristol City had done with their late goal two weeks ago.
Both games should have finished with clean sheets, that the only moan.
North End fans had been willing for a while the type of performance we saw here from Horgan.
The winger is a popular lad to say the least, showing what he was about with some good displays following his January arrival from Dundalk.
His progress has tailed-off this season, Neil being unable to find a home for him in the side.
It is a bit of a vicious circle, Horgan needing games to get himself properly going but Neil so far seeing others as a better option to play in the wide areas of the pitch.
Horgan could well have played himself into contention for Sheffield United’s visit this coming weekend, Neil admitting this was the best he had seen of the Republic of Ireland winger.
It is the left-wing role which Neil regards as Horgan’s best position.
That enables him to come inside on his right foot and make an impact that way.
His liking for drifting in from the sides to finding room centrally, led to his goal and an earlier chance when he found himself one-on-one with the keeper – a contest he came out second best in.
Preston’s 1,308 travelling fans – plus the handful more sat in hospitality – had left snow behind at home to make the journey down the M6 and along the A50.
It was just as cold as back in Lancashire but thankfully the white stuff was limited to a few brief flurries.
Although Neil named an unchanged side to the one which has started against QPR, he suffled the back line around.
Darnell Fisher vacated the right-back slot to move across to the left, with Clarke filling the gap – Paul Huntington and Ben Davies paired-up again in the middle.
Early on, Burton belied their lowly status and put PNE on the back foot.
Having ridden that storm though, the visitors began to get a stronger foothold in the proceedings.
Fisher’s first-time shot from more than 20 yards had goalkeeper Stephen Bywater leaping to tip it over the bar.
A low shot from Robinson beat Bywater but not John Brayford who kicked-off the line as half-time neared.
PNE were beginning to look the stronger side before Horgan and Harrop came on, their arrival asking even more questions of Burton.
The deadlock was broken in the 66th minute, Horgan’s shot having been deflected for a corner on the left.
Paul Gallagher delivered the corner deep to the far post where both Huntington and Clarke jumped.
Clarke’s header struck Jake Buxton on the foot, it falling back into the path of CLARKE who found the net with a shot from six yards.
The second goal arrived in the 83rd minute, that coming after Chris Maxwell had saved well from Lucas Akins.
Gallagher’s chipped pass over the top fed Barkhuizen who bore down on goal.
Buxton’s challenge took the ball away from Barkhuizen but into the path of HORGAN who didn’t break stride as he found the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box.
The game was in the third minute of added-on time when Matty Palmer’s corner came through to AKINS, the Burton front man scooping a shot into the roof of the net off the underside of the bar.