Dave Seddon’s big match verdict

Jake Clarke-Salter fouls Tom Barkhuizen
Jake Clarke-Salter fouls Tom Barkhuizen

Away the lads. Preston’s push for the top six is being driven by their expertise on the road.

The Lilywhites now boast the joint second best travel record in the Championship after beating Sunderland.

Victory at the very wintry Stadium of Light was their eighth on opposition soil and they are unbeaten away for 11 games – a run stretching back to November.

Only leaders Wolves have gathered more points from away games, with Fulham matching PNE’s 32 points.

Sunderland were seen off relatively comfortably in their own back yard and North End probably did not have to reach top gear to do that.

The first goal was always going to be key in a game when the relationship between home fans and their team is on the knife-edge it currently is on Wearside.

When Sean Maguire – who else? – supplied it five minutes into the second half, there was only going to be one winner.

Sunderland’s fans made their displeasure known and it was game over once Callum Robinson headed the second.

That goal came soon after Jake Clarke-Salter got a red card for his second booking of the afternoon.

Robinson’s finish was cue for an already half-empty ground to become a sea of red seats, all the noise coming from the 2,277 Preston fans high up in the away end who braved difficult conditions to make the trip north and faced even tougher ones travelling back through heavy snow.

When PNE resume action over the Easter weekend, they will be only two points shy of the play-off pace.

Middlesbrough’s draw at Brentford and Derby’s game with Cardiff falling victim to the weather, meant the gap closed.

Pre-match, Alex Neil had labelled the attempt to catch the top six as a game of ‘cat and mouse’.

That best sums it up, there seemingly a twist and turn with every game.

Talking about chat during the build-up, Black Cats boss Chris Coleman had described PNE as an, ‘In your face, route-one kind of team’.

The ‘in your face’ I take no issue with, North End liking to press their opponents.

But ‘route one’ is totally inaccurate.

One does wonder which of Preston’s games Coleman has watched of late in order to come out with such a remark.

There were times when Jordan Hugill was leading the attack that North End played quite directly up to him but not exclusively. They have played 10 games without Hugill since January 30 and route one they are certainly not.

As PNE toyed with Coleman’s side for the last 15 minutes of this game, the ball hardly left the grass.

It was pass and move, akin to a possession drill in training.

The fact Preston had 64% possession shows this was not a case of lumping it and picking up second balls.

Sunderland are in a sorry state and Coleman would be better advised to concentrate on their shortcomings, of which there are many.

For all their strengths on the road, North End played more like a home side would do.

They took the game to a Sunderland side who employed a 3-5-2 
system, the hosts content to play on the counter.

At times Coleman’s men did break quite well and that provided them with a couple of promising moments.

Not least an early chance when Chris Maxwell had to swipe the ball off the toes of Joel Asoro after he had been played into space in the box.

But in general, North End had the better of the play and in the second half they moved up a gear to win the game.

They could and should have scored more than two goals, that the one slight moan.

Two did the job though, PNE responding to the Fulham setback in the right way.

Neil had been forced into a couple of changes, in addition to one voluntary swap. 
Keeper Declan Rudd had stayed behind in Lancashire to attend the birth of his son Luca, giving Maxwell a first game since January.

Josh Earl replaced Greg Cunningham who was out with a hamstring strain, the teenager doing very well at left-back.

Neil chose Paul Gallagher ahead of Daniel Johnson in the midfield, Gallagher having sat on the bench against Fulham.

There was enough from a green-clad Preston during the first half to suggest that with a bit of half-time guidance from Neil, they could push on and win the game.

They had their chances in the opening 45 minutes, Lee Camp reaching a Robinson pass fractionally ahead of Tom Barkhuizen to kick clear.

Centre-backs Ben Davies and Paul Huntington both put headers too high after getting on the end of Gallagher set-pieces.

It was a Gallagher delivery which opened up the hosts five minutes into the second half to set the visitors on their way to the three points.

A foul on Barkhuizen saw them awarded a free-kick 30 yards out, quite centrally.

Gallagher whipped it with his right foot over to the far post where MAGUIRE sent a diving header across Camp into the net.

He was unmarked, as was Earl behind him, the Black Cats’ defence conspicuous by their absence.

PNE’s cause was further helped by Sunderland being reduced to 10 men with an hour played.

Clarke-Salter was caught in possession by Alan Browne on the halfway line.

As Browne moved forward the on-loan Chelsea defender pulled him back.

Having been booked in the first half, a second yellow card followed by red came out of referee Darren Bond’s pocket.

North End wasted no time in taking advantage of having the extra man, finding the net three minutes later.

Sunderland’s marking was non-existent once again as ROBINSON rose on the edge of the six-yard box to head home Barkhuizen’s chipped cross.

There was no coming back for the home side, no rescue act and pitch-length dash from Aiden McGeady like at Deepdale – McGeady stayed on the bench all afternoon.

Another dose of away-day joy, one which made a tricky trip home that bit easier.