PNE 1, Newcastle 1
Deepdale and Alex Neil got a first look at one another and the reaction to Preston’s draw with Newcastle was one very much of approval.
Pre-season friendlies are but a rough guide rather than anything definitive in how things are shaping-up ready for when the campaign starts on August 5.
But the signs were positive enough from this 1-1 draw with the Magpies – the score itself progress enough after three defeats by a 12-2 aggregate to them last season – to suggest that Neil is getting his message across.
Over the last fortnight or so Neil had been preaching a change of style, a passing one which required play to be built from the back.
Steadily the players have been getting to grips with it, there being glimpses of what Neil wanted in the Stockport, Morecambe and Accrington friendlies.
Saturday’s contest was the homecoming, a chance to show that it was all coming together nicely – at the same time acknowledging that it is a work in progress.
Neil enjoyed being in the home technical area for the first time and a lot of what he saw encouraged him.
That was a feeling shared by the Preston faithful among a decent-sized 7,380 crowd, the numbers swelled by more than 2,300 from Tyneside.
The home fans watched North End pass and move in decent fashion, helping them create a few decent chances in addition to the one put away by Tom Barkhuizen.
His 33rd minute cushioned volley levelled matters after an early opener from Magpies striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
As we know, the Serbian has previous with North End, this his fifth goal in four games against them.
Four of those came in the space of a few days last October as Newcastle beat PNE in the EFL Cup and the league.
They shut him out in the Championship visit to Toon in April, only for four of his team-mates to inflict damage instead.
Mitrovic’s goal was not a chance in isolation and there is certainly room for North End to find more solidity at the back.
That said, take nothing away from the displays of both Chris Maxwell and Ben Davies in this clash.
Maxwell pulled four very good saves over the course of the afternoon – the first with less than two minutes gone, the last in the final stages.
In front of him, a maturing Davies currently looks a strong contender to start the season.
His loan stay at Fleetwood last term has done him the world of good.
You might say of Preston’s centre-halves, Davies is the most comfortable with the ball at his feet.
That is seeing him fit in with Neil’s style of play which encourages defenders to bring the ball out from the back.
It suits Maxwell too, with the Welshman having shown a liking last season to use his feet when the occasion arose.
Maxwell did another 90 minutes at the weekend, with Declan Rudd’s injury meaning the goalkeeping duties aren’t having to be shared out as much in the friendlies.
Mat Hudson got half an hour at Morecambe and Accy but otherwise Maxwell has stood duty between the posts.
Maxwell said: “It was good, for me personally it was great to get 90 minutes under my belt.
“It is not far off the season and I’m trying to implement what the manager wants into my game.
“Overall the team did very well, we have held a really good Newcastle side and I think we were the better side for the majority of the game.
“You have to remember that Newcastle changed a lot of their team at half-time so they had fresh legs all over the pitch.
“I thought we coped with that really well, fatigue struck with about 15 minutes to go, certainly for me with some wayward passes.
“That is what pre-season is all about, you have to get the minutes under your belt and get the rustiness out of your system – make sure we are all ready to play Sheffield Wednesday.”
The tiredness Maxwell aluded to, did not stop him venturing from his box in the last few minutes to head the ball clear.
Maxwell said: “It wouldn’t be a good performance if I didn’t get at least one header in during a game.
“I like to keep that as my trademark.
“The playing out from the back is something I have done a lot with different managers.
“I wouldn’t say it is totally identical to what I have done before but it is very similar.
“I think the players prefer playing that way and I believe the fans prefer seeing that as well.
“We are a team full of really good footballers, so why not use that to our advantage?
“It is really enjoyable and it seems to be working.”
Maxwell was in action early doors, reaching above his head to tip a shot from Siem De Jong over the bar.
But he was beaten in the ninth minute, MITROVIC firing home after Maxwell had parried a shot from Paul Dummett.
The Serb struck the base of the post with a shot as the visitors bossed the play, but steadily North End began to find their feet.
Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson became influential, supported by Ben Pearson in a deeper role.
The equaliser came with 33 minutes on the clock, Callum Robinson’s pass finding Greg Cunningham on the left.
His cross flicked off the head of Grant Hanley as he jumped with Jordan Hugill, falling to BARKHUIZEN who volleyedin from six yards.
A system which had started 4-1-4-1 evolved into the 4-2-3-1 seen in earlier games.
Hugill’s scissor kick forced Karl Darlow, who was one of three keepers used by the Magpies, into a diving save as the hour mark approached.
Before that at the other end, Maxwell saved well with his feet from Dwight Gayle.
A bonus for the North End fans as the contest reached the final half hour was a first sight of Josh Harrop.
The summer buy from Manchester United joined the action in the 58th minute as part of a double substitution.
He operated in the No.10 role behind Eoin Doyle who came on at the same time.
Harrop led an attack on the counter in which he played Doyle in, only for the Irishman to lose his footing in the box.