Dave Seddon's match verdict: Preston North End slip out of the Championship's top six as results catch up with them

Preston North End’s defeat to Cardiff City saw them lose their precarious grip on sixth spot which for the time being turns them from the hunted into the chaser.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 28th June 2020, 8:00 am
Daniel Johnson scores Preston's equaliser against Cardiff at Deepdale
Daniel Johnson scores Preston's equaliser against Cardiff at Deepdale

On February 8 victory at Wigan moved PNE into the last Championship play-off slot, a residency which was never particularly comfortable.

For much of it, they were looking over their shoulder at the pack of clubs gathering just below them.

Despite three successive defeats before lockdown and the draw in their restart game at Luton last week, North End clung on to sixth.

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Daniel Johnson celebrates his goal

The longer they went without a win, the greater the threat grew of them tumbling.

Cardiff not only inflicted the defeat which knocked them out of the top six, they also replaced them.

With the sides having gone into Saturday’s clash level on points and with the slimmest of goal difference separating them, this was always going to be a key game.

The same scenario will be played out when Derby come to Deepdale on Wednesday teatime – the Rams arriving with the same number of points as Alex Neil’s men.

Preston midfielder Ben Pearson challenges Cardiff winger Junior Hoilett

Not only do PNE need the victory to mark their 5,000th league game in style, they require them to stop them slipping further behind that coveted sixth place.

North End rarely looked like beating Cardiff although they could quite easily have taken a point.

Two fine chances for an equaliser fell their way with the scoreline at 2-1, both missed by Andrew Hughes and David Nugent.

Those misses were to bite them on the backside when the visitors scored a third goal in stoppage-time.

PNE striker Jayden Stockley challenges in the air with cardiff defender Curtis Nelson

In his press conference done via Zoom, Neil argued that the long spell of inactivity between March and June made it difficult to compare pre-lockdown form with that after the restart.

The cold statistics though, are that Preston have won one of their last seven games and taken only four points.

That run, however long a period it has been stretched out over, followed a purple patch when they won four and drew twice in January and early February.

The dip has come just at the wrong time, some fans likening it to last season’s late slump when North End went from play-off wannabees to mid-table finishers.

The Preston wall face a free-kick from Junior Hoilett

To prevent a repeat, they need a win sharpish in order to kick-start a strong run.

It might needs five or even six wins from the remaining seven games to claim sixth place and that seems a tall order indeed.

All three of Cardiff’s goals were preventable from PNE’s point of view.

Possession was given away to set the ball rolling on the opener which came 21 minutes left to play.

After Daniel Johnson’s 12th goal of the season had brought the hosts level, Cardiff were allowed to slice open North End’s back four with a simple one-two move.

Then a slip from the usually reliable Patrick Bauer let in the visitors for the third, the shot from Robert Glatzel going in off Ben Davies.

It made Deepdale’s first behind closed doors game a hard watch, certainly the last segment.

The famous old ground just didn’t feel the same without the fans in.

Their only presence was via the many flags and banners spread over the empty seats.

Football has been forced to change massively since North End had last played at home.

The referee and his team of officials used an executive box as a dressing room.

Preston’s squad were spread out in both the home and away changing rooms.

The players’ lounge was Cardiff’s dressing room, with showers installed in a temporary building. It’s that level of detail and change which is needed to stage a game at present.

PNE’s starting XI featured Jayden Stockley for the first time since January, the tall striker’s inclusion one of two changes made to the side which had played at Luton.

Darnell Fisher returned at right-back, that allowing Alan Browne to play in midfield.

When you have Stockley in the side, service is needed from the wings in order for him to thrive.

There was precious little of that, meaning his battle with Sean Morrison was done primarily with his back to goal dealing with punts forward.

Worthwhile chances in the first half were few and far between – the lad tasked with disinfecting the goal posts during the drinks break and at half-time did so out of duty rather than necessity.

Scott Sinclair’s low shot which keeper Alex Smithies touched behind was as close as either side went.

Cardiff struck first in the 69th minute, Browne put in trouble in midfield by a poor pass out from the back.

Glatzel broke away, Ben Davies bringing him down just outside the box.

The Preston wall did its job in blocking Junior Hoilett’s free-kick but Dion Sanderson whipped over a fine cross for Joe Ralls to get the better of Fisher at the far post to angle a header across Declan Rudd.

PNE’s response was swift, Bauer’s clearance down the right channel headed on by Stockley to find substitute Sean Maguire.

His pass inside picked out Browne who saw his shot blocked by Joe Bennett but the ball fell to Daniel Johnson who shot home from eight yards.

Cardiff opened-up North End to regain the lead in the 82nd minute.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing ran at the back four, played a one-two with fellow sub Lee Tomlin and found himself clear on goal – his finish past Rudd was an assured one.

Hughes headed straight at the keeper from a fine Paul Gallagher pass dropped over the Cardiff back line.

Then Nugent curled a shot wide after Brad Potts had burst into the box, that a glorious chance.

It was game over when Bauer slipped and misjudged a ball down Cardiff’s left side, allowing Glatzel to cut into the box, side-step a challenge and find the net via a sizeable deflection off Davies’ boot.

The game finished in a thunderstorm – it never rains it pours, summing events up accurately for North End.