Dave Seddon: Neil’s “points make prizes” mantra spot on for PNE

Alan Browne slots home the winner from the penalty spot
Alan Browne slots home the winner from the penalty spot

This is not the ‘must-win’ stage of the season by any stretch of the imagination but there are occasions when a victory is particularly welcome.

Preston needed to beat Hull for a variety of reasons and while this was not such a convincing display, it was 
‘job done’ for Alex Neil’s men.

For starters, three points strengthened their hand in the chase of the play-offs.

Knowing Bristol City had been beaten the night before and that four of the top 10 were in action on Saturday, this was an opportunity to jockey for position.

A win at Deepdale was overdue, it had been seven weeks since the last one – granted this was only the fourth game in that period.

It maintained equilibrium between the home and away records, with 24 points won in front of the faithful and the same number on the road.

This game was the first since the £9.5m club record sale of striker Jordan Hugill to West Ham United, which made winning it vital too.

However good a piece of business that was, scrutiny was on the game to see how North End coped without him.

If things had not gone their way, inevitably there would have been mutterings about the deal and why it had been allowed to through.

In the end, the Lilywhites did just about enough to get across the line and make it two wins in five days to follow up the 3-0 victory at Nottingham Forest last Tuesday.

That success at the City Ground was more pleasing on the eye than Saturday’s was but there are different ways to win a game of football.

PNE boss Neil admitted as much post-match, stressing the importance of results over performance as things begin to take shape in the table.

His ‘points are the prizes’ adage could have been uttered by a gameshow host but it did nicely sum up the feeling at the end of this battle with the relegation-threatened Tigers.

Preston came from behind to win it, Greg Cunningham and Alan Browne finding the net after Jarrod Bowen had put the visitors in front.

The scoring was squashed into a 16-minute spell at the end of the first half after a less than inspiring opening.

Hull held the lead for just seven minutes, with Cunningham heading his first goal for 13 months before Browne found the net from the penalty spot.

Boosted by that comeback before half-time, North End went on to enjoy their best spell of the contest after the break but were unable to add to their tally which would have made things somewhat more comfortable in the final stages.

As it was, the visitors were to have plenty of the ball as the clocked ticked down and that meant some late defending needed to be done by PNE.

That they did well, for all Hull had the ball there were few anxious moments in the box.

There is a healthy look about Preston as things stand, with them seventh in the table and three points shy of Bristol City who now occupy the last play-off place.

These last two wins have pushed them four places up the division.

They have got two tough matches now in the shape of bogey team Brentford and leaders Wolves.

But they can approach them now with confidence, even if Ben Pearson will miss them both through suspension.

His second-half booking, a 10th of the season for him, was a blot on the afternoon.

The hip flexor injury which Pearson pulled up with soon after his the yellow card, might have meant he would have missed the next two games anyway.

It was one of Pearson’s pals in midfield, Browne, who emerged as a key figure in this victory.

Handed the No.10 job behind the striker, the Irishman did not limit himself to that role.

Browne was to pop up in different areas of the pitch at various times and probably was not far off covering all of the Deepdale playing surface.

Aside from scoring what was the winning penalty, he got in some decent attacking positions.

Later in the game when Pearson hobbled off, Browne dropped back into the deeper holding role.

While he got the ‘star man’ award, Darnell Fisher could not have been far away in the reckoning.

His right-back display was impressive to say the least, both in a defensive and also an attacking capacity.

He has made a mockery of the bad press from Rotherham fans which accompanied his arrival last summer.

While Fisher might have struggled on that side of the Pennines, he has positively thrived in Lancashire and the Preston team is stronger for having him in it.

In the other full-back role, Cunningham played well too and not just because of his goal.

After sitting out two games nursing a slight muscle strain, he got the nod over Josh Earl to start this one.

Earl had performed well at Forest but Cunningham lent his experience to this game and fully merited his recall.

Slowly but surely, Neil is edging towards having his first-choice XI available.

Pearson’s absence means a step back, Louis Moult is being eased into things, while Ben Davies was missing again.

Once that trio is back fully up and running, North End will be pretty much running at full strength. Cunningham for Earl was the only change made by Neil from the Forest game.

The opening 29 minutes of the first half was forgettable, giving way to a short spell which produced the contest’s three goals.

Hull drew first blood as Jackson Irvine swept a pass across the pitch to find Bowen down the right channel.

BOWEN moved into the box and hit a shot which struck Cunningham on the foot and spun beyond Declan Rudd into the far corner.

North End levelled in the 36th minute, Paul Gallagher’s corner met by CUNNINGHAM 12 yards out with a header which flew into the net.

The game swung their way in first-half stoppage time, Billy Bodin going to ground after Fraizer Campbell came across to challenge.

Referee Stephen Martin pointed to the spot, BROWNE dispatching it with confidence into the net.