Simon Grayson felt that Preston North End’s performance in the FA Cup clash with Sheffield United was a step in the right direction after the off-colour shows of late.
While the 1-1 draw means a replay at Bramall Lane a week tomorrow, the PNE manager saw a vast improvement on what was produced against Leyton Orient and Yeovil.
Paul Gallagher’s 30-yard free-kick gave the Lilywhites a 19th minute lead in front of a 10,770 crowd.
But the Blades pegged them back midway through the second half, Diego De Girolama netting the equaliser from close range.
Grayson told the Evening Post: “In the previous two games we had not played with the intenstity I would have liked.
“It was different against Sheffield United, we started the game extremely well and got on the front foot straight away.
“Calum Woods epitomised that early on when he made a couple of crunching tackles which got the crowd really up for it.
“When you are playing Sheffield United in the cup or league, you need to be bright both physically and mentally.
“I thought that we were both of those things on Saturday.”
Grayson picked out right-back Woods for praise, although did acknowledge he switched off momentarily after conceding the free-kick which was to lead to the equaliser.
“Calum was outstanding, he has waited patiently for his opportunity,” said Grayson.
“You know what you are going to get from Calum, he is a whole-hearted lad and I had no hesitation in putting him in.
“I thought he was one of quite a few players who contributed well – Tom Clarke did well, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake showed a lot of quality and I was delighted he got through the whole game.
“Sylvan showed in the first half how good his hold-up play can be and his awareness of others.”
Ebanks-Blake had got his first start for Preston in the absence of Jermaine Beckford who was ruled out because of an ear infection.
His fitness will be assessed ahead of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final second leg at Walsall tomorrow night, a game in which PNE have to turn round a 2-0 deficit.
New signing Daniel Johnson watched Saturday’s game from the directors box, the 22-year-old having completed his move from Aston Villa on Friday night.
Grayson said: “Aston Villa rated Daniel highly but felt he needed to move on to further his career.
“We looked at him this time last year but felt he wasn’t quite ready then.
“A couple of loans since have helped develop his game, hence why we have paid the money we have. He is the first player since I have been here to have cost us a fee and we worked hard to get him.”