PNE's DJ in familar territory
Daniel Johnson set his sights for the new season with Preston's goal in this creditable draw against a strong Stoke City side.
The seventh minute strike was from typical DJ range, just outside the box, and he hopes it was a sign of things to come once the real ball comes out in just under a fortnight’s time.
“Luckily for me, things keep dropping in and around the edge of the box and I’ve been in the right place to take advantage,” said Johnson.
“I’m not really a player who gets right inside the box for tap-ins, even though the gaffer is always on to me about getting closer in.
“For some reason, I keep hanging on the outside of the box, waiting for something to drop and it was nice to see this one go in – my first goal since we came back.”
North End held on to the lead given to them by Johnson until the 54th minute when Mame Diouf fired the visitors back on level terms.
In the end a draw was the right result, both sides having struck the woodwork and worked the respective keepers.
It was a strong Potters squad which came up the M6, Xherdan Shaqiri the only one of their big-hitters not involved after his involvement at Euro 2016 with Switzerland.
Bojan Krkic, Jack Butland, Marko Arnautovic, Glen Johnson, Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adam all started.
With Diouf, Peter Crouch and Phil Bardsley joining the fray in the second half, North End were tested throughout the afternoon and more than held their own.
Johnson said: “It was a great work out, it is always good to play against Premier League opposition.
“Stoke are a good team, they move the ball really well and are comfortable on it.
“Myself and the other boys got a lot out of the game, a lot of the squad were involved.
“I thought in the first half we were really good, it was hot out there but we showed a good level of fitness.
“We played some really good football at times, were strong at the back and looked hard to beat – like we were last season and will need to be again this year.”
Johnson was in a three-man central midfield which formed a 3-5-2 system – Stoke used the same formation.
He had Paul Gallagher and Ben Pringle for company in there, the engine room having potential to cause plenty of selection headaches for Simon Grayson in the season ahead.
Alan Browne sat this one out as an unused substitute, having played the full 90 minutes at Oldham.
Ben Pearson and John Welsh came on during a wave of second-half changes, with Liam Grimshaw another option – on this occasion, he played the closing stages in the right-back slot.
Pringle caught the eye with an all-action performance, his mop of bright blonde hair popping up here, there and everywhere.
The highlights for him was being part of the flowing move on the counter-attack which set up Johnson’s goal, then his cross in the second half which Joe Garner met with a diving header – once which Butland pushed behind at full-stretch.
It was a pleasing first outing in a Preston shirt at Deepdale for the summer signing from Fulham.
The rest of the Lilywhites starting XI had a familiar look about it, Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington and Bailey Wright the back three, flanked by Chris Humphrey and Greg Cunningham in the wing-back positions.
Cunningham gave way to Ben Davies at the interval, with young Davies given a tough time by Diouf in the second period.
It was nice to see Humphrey back on home turf, this his first appearance at Deepdale since the end of September.
For the first hour of this contest he was the replacement for the stricken Calum Woods.
Playing the 3-5-2 shape allowed Humphrey to track up and down the right hand side of the pitch.
When Preston went to four at the back later, skipper Clarke and then Grimshaw filled in at right-back.
At the top of the pitch it was the tried and tested Garner and Jermaine Beckford combination.
Garner looked the more likely of those two, Beckford still to get into his full stride in the friendlies to date.
By the end, the front line had changed to Eoin Doyle and Simon Makienok, with Jordan Hugill on the right and Callum Robinson on the left.
North End’s early opener saw them move the ball almost the full length of the pitch.
It was actually a free-kick for the Potters right on the edge of the Preston box which started it all off.
Bojan kept his shot low, the wall doing its job with the ball taken up by Gallagher who in turn fed Garner.
Garner’s pass found Humphrey who motored up the right-wing and crossed low to Pringle.
With his back to goal and on the stretch, Pringle poked the ball back into the path of Johnson whose side-foot shot clipped off a covering defender and wrong-footed Butland.
Stoke were grateful to the England keeper on the stroke of half-time, Butland diving to tip behind Garner’s audacious shot from just over the half-way line.
From Gallagher’s resulting corner, Huntington’s header clipped the near post.
Bojan struck the same upright just seconds after the break, serving notice of Stoke’s attacking intent.
The Spaniard created their equaliser, his lofted pass from the centre-circle misjudged by Davies, that allowing Diouf to get clear on goal and beat Anders Lindegaard with a shot at the near post.