Was Preston’s draw against Barnsley a tale of two players who were missing, as much as about those who took part?
Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson were conspicuous by their absence from the team, injury keeping them on the sidelines.
As well as the necessary change of personnel, Alex Neil chose to switch North End’s approach to the clash.
Rather than aim to play through midfield, Neil looked at the wider picture in that the ball spent plenty of time out on the wings.
The Scotsman insisted that still would have been the case even had Pearson and DJ been available.
Taking into consideration that in their last game before the international break the Tykes had taken Sunderland to the cleaners by exploiting the centre of the pitch, Neil chose to avoid that area.
It made for a different type of game than we had got used to last month, one which was far more stretched and open.
There was not the control of parts of the contest which had been seen, for example, against Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Leeds.
Action swung from one end of the pitch to the other, that creating plenty of incident but without too much quality.
PNE had the better of it, in the shape of more shots, more corners and more possession.
However, they lacked a bit of care and guile around the edge of the Barnsley box to make it count.
“To be honest, I didn’t play for us to have control of the game,” said Neil.
“I made it an open game, that was a conscious decision.
“The reason being was that I felt my front four had enough ammunition at the top end of the pitch to beat them.”
Pearson’s absence was the legacy of an injury collected at Middlesbrough a fortnight earlier, with Johnson hurt in the meantime in training.
Said Neil: “We missed key players in Ben and DJ, they were part of the foundation which our midfield had been built on to this point.
“We chose to play with a different style, we didn’t make as many passes in there, we didn’t play through central areas as much.
“I had seen Barnsley beat Sunderland.
“During that game, Sunderland tried to play through central areas and Barnsley hurt them three times on the counter-attack.
“We didn’t want to get caught like that so we pulled it into wider areas, using our pace with Tom Barkhuizen and Stephy Mavididi.”
Pearson and Johnson were always going to be missed.
Over the last 12 months, we have seen the influence Pearson has had in the Preston midfield.
For DJ, the first few weeks of the season had been a rebirth almost in what he offered to PNE.
His performances dipped last term but he had seemed revitalised by how Neil wants the game played.
Even without the midfield duo, this draw had to be seen as two points dropped from Preston’s view point, rather than one gained.
A draw was better than nothing and let’s remember that they lost the corresponding fixture exactly a year earlier.
But having taken the lead through Sean Maguire’s first competitive goal in a white shirt, the expectation had been there for North End to push on and win.
As it was they let Barnsley back in within two minutes, conceding their first league goal from open play this term.
If anyone was due a goal and deserving of one, it was Maguire.
Having bagged more than 20 goals for Cork City, he found the net in the pre-season friendly with Burnley.
In league action though, he had needed to be a bit more patient. Being tucked in the No.10 role behind Jordan Hugill gave him the chance to get into goalscoring positions more than he had done when playing wide.
He took advantage here, getting on the end of a fine ball from Tom Barkhuizen to head into the net.
Hopefully this was the first of many to come and certainly there is the potential for that to happen.
Maguire had the company of Mavididi and Barkhuizen in the three-man support line behind Hugill.
The midfield roles went to Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne, for Gallagher this his 500th appearance at club level.
His 499th at Derby last month was one he can barely remember due to a bang on the head, an enforced break since delaying the landmark 500 until Saturday.
A change in the back four saw Tommy Spurr get the nod over Ben Davies.
For me, Spurr was North End’s best player on the day, just ahead of Maguire.
I mentioned DJ’s rebirth earlier, and similarly we are starting to see what Spurr is about after an average first season.
Clearly more at home in the centre of defence rather than out at left-back, Spurr linked well with Paul Huntington.
North End’s opener came after they had enjoyed much the better of the opening play.
They had gone close early on, Maguire nipping to the byline and pulling a ball back for Jordan Hugill to fire just wide of the target.
Maguire started the move for his 23rd-minute goal, his pass finding Barkhuizen.
As Barkhuizen forged a route past his marker down the left channel, Maguire hung back before starting to make his way into the box.
His timing to meet the cross from Barkhuizen was perfect, MAGUIRE jumping to guide a header past keeper Adam Davies and inside the far post.
Barnsley equalised straight away in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.
Adam Hammill whipped over a cross from the right, one which Darnell Fisher moved to clear out of the six-yard box.
The clearance struck the shin of the challenging Brad POTTS and rolled into the net.
Fisher had better fortune when clearing off the line early in the second half, a sliced shot from Potts having been poked goalwards by Ike Ugbo.
Huntington saw a header blocked almost on the line by team-mate Mavididi, while late on, Maguire’s shot was tipped over by Davies.