PNE 2, Aston Villa 0: Dave Seddon's match verdict
Much has been made of Aston Villa's long run without an away win and Preston North End were in no mood to see that wait end at Deepdale.
Not since the opening day of last season have Villa won on their travels and there is an impressive tweet doing the rounds which lists some key events which have happened in the meantime.
Astronaut Tim Peake went to space and back, there has been Brexit, a change of Prime Minister, while Sam Allardyce joined Sunderland, left Sunderland, was named England manager and then got dismissed.
Was Deepdale going to be the venue where Villa would finally win on the road? Not on your life!
From the fifth minute it was clear that this was going to be North End’s day, with them going on to serve-up their best performance of the season.
Although Villa’s squad is one of the most expensively-assembled in the second tier, it was no match for Preston’s heart and desire.
This was not just Simon Grayson’s men producing an up-and-at-them display though, there was a game plan and some very decent football was played along the way.
In the first half especially, they cut through Villa with relative ease.
Ben Pearson, who scored his first goal in club colours and took the man of the match honour, was to admit later his surprise at how easily North End got through at times.
Take nothing away from the home side, Villa might have had their frailties but this was a case of PNE fully exploiting them.
After Pearson had opened the scoring early doors, the Preston supporters launched a chant of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ in Roberto Di Matteo’s direction.
When Jordan Hugill doubled the lead, it was Villa’s 5,400 fans in the Bill Shankly Kop aiming the same song at the Italian boss.
It was a chant heard twice more in the second half before the away section began to thin out long before the final whistle.
Some will have been back on the M6 when their side missed a late penalty – rather Chris Maxwell saved it – which had it gone in, would have given the scoreline a distorted look.
The two goal margin of victory was the least PNE deserved, a consolation for the visitors could have given the impression the game was closer than it really was.
North End’s game plan was to press Villa relentlessly and stop them settling into any sort of rhythm.
Pearson, John Welsh and Daniel Johnson did just that in midfield, it opening up space in the Villa half which they took full advantage of.
After the interval, PNE used the counter attack well.
Villa had four strikers on the pitch, leaving plenty of holes for the home side to move the ball in.
Often leading the charge forward was Pearson who had his best game in a white shirt.
The January signing from Manchester United has been a late starter this season, only forcing his way into contention in the past couple of weeks.
A strong display in the EFL Cup at Bournemouth was followed by an impressive run as a sub in the win over Wigan.
His first league start was at Birmingham last week and he deservedly kept possession of the shirt for Saturday.
Pearson provided energy and legs in a 4-1-4-1 system which was more attacking than it looked on paper.
Next to him in the centre of midfield was Johnson, with Welsh covering behind in a role in front of the back four.
The width came from Callum Robinson and Aiden McGeady, providing a supply line to Jordan Hugill up front.
Such a system certainly stifled Villa as well as getting Preston on the front foot.
Welsh patrolled the area which Jack Grealish likes to operate in, very little seen of Grealish before being subbed at half-time.
Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright handled Jonathan Kodjia and Jordan Ayew well, so too Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede when they came on for the second half.
That striking quartet cost a combined £37m – no wonder the Villa natives are restless at the underachievement when such sums are being spent.
Money cannot buy you everything though, instead it being a far more modestly put together Preston side which had the upper hand.
Less than five minutes were on the clock when the first goal went in.
The visitors had enjoyed a decent spell of keep-ball from the kick-off and this was PNE’s first forage towards the Villa box.
After a ball forward had been cleared on the edge of the area, North End kept the pressure on.
The ball came off the shin of Mile Jedinak and rolled into the path of PEARSON to slot a side-foot finish across keeper Mark Bunn.
Chances came at regular intervals, with Robinson, Alex Baptiste and Hugill all getting sights of the target.
The lead was doubled six minutes before the interval, Pearson taking the ball off Ashley Westwood in midfield and driving forward.
His pass found Johnson in the box and when the former Villa man was tackled, the ball rolled into the path of HUGILL who finished smartly first time from six yards.
Preston held Villa at arms length in the second half, the visitors having just two shots on target.
One of those came in the 95th minute when Bailey Wright pulled back Jordan Amavi, referee Peter Bankes awarding a penalty.
McCormack kept his spot kick low, Maxwell going the right way to push it behind.