PNE midfielder aims for cup success at Gresty Road

John Welsh
John Welsh
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After an afternoon of shadowing Stewart Downing, Preston North End midfielder John Welsh will turn his attention to this evening’s Capital One Cup clash with Crewe Alexandra.

Welsh caught the eye during Sunday’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough, carrying out the instructions to stifle playmaker Downing to the letter.

It was a battle of the No.19 shirts, two 31-year-olds going toe-to-toe, Welsh very much the winner on the day.

Tonight it is Gresty Road for the Scouser, scene of his last goal in PNE colours 15 months ago.

Welsh enjoyed his dual with Downing and was pleased that North End got off the mark at the first attempt in their return to the Championship.

With that point on the board, they head to Cheshire in good heart for a brief break from the league ahead of a resumption of hostilities with MK Dons on Saturday.

It is with a quiet sense of pride that Welsh reflects on the weekend’s events against promotion favourites Boro.

Not one to hog the limelight, he says the praise for the display should be spread over the whole team.

Welsh told the Evening Post: “We were always good defensively last season because of our team ethic and the way we set up.

“Our aim is always to try and limit teams to few chances.

“We always knew Sunday’s game would be tough, with Middlesbrough at times having good possession.

“The gaffer wanted me to sit in front of the defence, we had an idea that Stewart Downing would play just off the front.

“We knew how good he can be, having played at the highest level, so we needed to keep him quiet.

“Downing was their main play maker if you like, so our plan was for me to keep close to him, try and keep him on his right foot when I couldn’t get a tackle in or stop the ball from getting to him.

“That is something I enjoy doing, I like tackling people and stifling the other team.

“I’m glad it worked and that we got a draw put of it.

“The lads in the back three were brilliant, they blocked and headed – every credit.

“The way Middlesbrough play with someone playing off the striker, Downing was going to drift all over the place.

“We had to be aware of that and I had to be careful not to be dragged out of position.

“If someone came into your space, you picked them up and more often than not, it was Stewart Downing for me.

“It was about an awareness of where people were on the pitch.

“Sunday’s result wasn’t about me getting the man of the match award, it was a team effort with us all backing each other up.”

Welsh was impressed with the displays of Joe Garner and Will Keane in North End’s attack, even though the scoreline was blank.

He said: “Those two worked really hard up front, Joe is a pain in the backside for any central defender he plays against.

“Joe puts his body in and attacks the ball really well, he is someone that I would hate to play against – I’m glad he’s on our side.

“A particular strength for us this season will be getting into the box.

“Any quality cross into the box, Joe is always going to be there or there abouts in terms of getting on the end of.

“I’m sure that he was a bit disappointed not to have put that header away from Greg Cunningham’s cross at the end on Sunday.

“But if Joe gets on the end of another cross like that, it will be in the back of the net.”

Goals are far more Garner’s thing than Welsh’s, hence the midfielder being happy to leave the scoring to him.

Welsh last found the back of the net on the final day of the 2013/14 season, that coming in a 2-1 defeat at Crewe.

That was his second successive goal – he has only scored three for Preston in total – so surely he is due another one soon?

“Someone mentioned the other day that it was at Crewe where I last scored,” said Welsh.

“It was a left-footed shot from the edge of the box which was something of a rarity.

“I doubt that will be repeated any time soon but you never know! While it is always nice to chip in with a goal or two, I’m happy to leave the scoring to Joe, Will and Jermaine Beckford.

“The Crewe game brings about a different kind of pressure than Middlesbrough.

“We go there as a team from a higher division and the expectation will be on us.

“Crewe like to get the ball down and play, a bit like Boro did on Sunday.

“They want to play football and so do we – while we like to be solid and hard to beat, we want to play football in the right areas and hurt teams.

“Having played Crewe a lot over the last three season, we know a lot about them.

“We are all looking forward to the game because after being without a competitive all summer, once you get started you just want the games to keep coming along.

“The friendlies were good to play in but Middlesbrough was a whole new level and you want to carry on with that sort of intensity. We won’t be treating Crewe lightly, this is competition we want to make progress in because some of the big clubs come in at the next round.”

North End took four points off Crewe last season.

They drew 1-1 at Gresty Road at Christmas, it needing an 83rd minute equaliser from substitute Jermaine Beckford to earn a point.

Things went more smoothly in the return clash in March, North End winning 5-1.

Garner scored four goals that afternoon with Beckford rounding-off the scoring.