Dave Seddon's match verdict: Rain moves play for Preston North End's first pre-season game
In this difficult and strange era we are going through, the drama surrounding Preston North End’s pre-season visit to Bamber Bridge did not seem particularly out of place.
After a relatively dry few weeks, it tipped it down with rain on Saturday morning and over dinnertime to render parts of the pitch at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium waterlogged.
It thwarted the hopes of Lilywhites fans to see their play live for the first time since March 2020, with the Brig faithful in a similar boat.
Early comers who had clicked through the turnstiles with proof of their negative lateral flow tests, got to see the gallant attempts to clear the pitch of water.
Just beyond 2pm, they saw referee Martin Woods shake his head and Brig official on the pitch look up to the main stand and signal it was off.
Some fans stayed for a pint, others headed home – those on the way turned round and plotted something else for their afternoon.
The players drove the eight miles to North End’s Euxton training ground where the friendly was contested behind closed doors.
So good is the drainage there, the sprinklers were on before kick-off according to one PNE official.
Covid protocol and the fact Euxton can’t accommodate spectators, meant it had to be a private affair.
Annoying indeed for the fans but both teams wanted a game and the only alternative was for a blank afternoon.
It was the right decision to postpone at Irongate even though that might not cut ice with some of the faithful.
There weren’t just a couple of puddles, two big areas of the pitch near to the touchline on the main stand side had standing water on it.
Attempts were made to brush the water off but few inroads were made.
One of the brushes used snapped in two, conjuring up memories of the Only Fools and Horses episode where road sweeper Trigger was rewarded by the local council for using the same broom for many years.
The playing surface might have improved later on but wouldn’t have dried out.
Just imagine had a player suffered a bad injury in that area of the pitch had the game gone ahead?
The rest of the playing surface was in pristine condition but the drains in the wet area couldn’t cope.
What a shame because the visit to Brig is always one to enjoy, especially as the short pre-season last year meant the annual clash didn’t happen.
The fixture helps Brig run for a good chunk of the season, with the ticket money and bar takings invaluable.
In the statement North End put out afterwards to explain the fixture had been moved to Euxton, it referenced a donation they would make to the host club.
Hence Brig became the away team and at this point I have to rely on postings on PNE’s Twitter account for what went on behind the brick wall at the training ground.
Preston were 8-3 winners, scoring four in each half.
They fielded two different XIs, with two substitutes coming on.
Noah Mawene was the first-half change, joining part way through in a pre-planned swap with Joe Rodwell-Grant.
In his short time on the pitch, 16-year-old Mawene set up two goals and scored himself. Not a bad cameo.
Lewis Leigh, Brad Potts and Tom Barkhuizen were the other first-half scorers.
In the second half, Josh Harrop, Sean Maguire (2) and Emil Riis bagged.
Mawene, Rodwell-Grant, Leigh, Josh Seary and Lewis Coulton were a quintet of teenagers to feature.
With Matthew Olosunde, Izzy Brown, Alan Browne, Paul Huntington, Ched Evans and Andrew Hughes unavailable, there were gaps to fill.
If there is to be more focus on youth at PNE, that can only be a good thing after a rather rough ride for youngsters in recent seasons.
Already having Mawene and Seary committed to pro contracts when they turn 17, is promising.
The first-year scholar pair have been doing pre-season training with the seniors, so too second-year scholar Leigh.
Switching at short notice to Euxton wasn’t too much of a problem for North End.
Because of limited space at Brig and the need to meet social distancing protocol, the PNE squad had met up at the training ground and changed there.
The plan was to bus the team for the first-half in and arrive at Irongate in time to do a pre-match warm-up.
In the meantime, the team for the second-half would arrive shortly before the interval, with the first-half side taken back to Euxton.
Those fortunate enough to watch at Euxton would have seen midfielder Leigh give PNE a 16th minute lead, put clear by Scott Sinclair’s pass.
Sinclair played up front alongside Rodwell-Grant in a 3-5-2, Potts pushed up front when Mawene was introduced in an attacking midfield role.
A three-goal burst between the 36th and 39th minute stretched the advantage.
Mawene set up Potts and then Barkhuizen to score, then son of Youl got the fourth.
Jamie Thomas pulled one back for Brig on half-time, beating Declan Rudd who was playing his first game since January 2.
PNE were diamond geezers in the second half, switching to a 4-1-3-2.
Whiteman sat in front of a back four, with Tom Bayliss, Adam O’Reilly and Josh Harrop ahead of him.
Seary played at right-back and was later replaced from the bench by Coulton.
Harrop netted the fifth goal with a free-kick then Maguire got the sixth and seventh, either side of Thomas scoring his second at the other end.
It was briefly 7-3 when Mark Yeates found the net, before Riis had the last word with Preston’s eighth goal in stoppage-time.
North End now leave their Euxton HQ behind to spend a few days in Scotland.
St Johnstone and Celtic are their opponents up there and no doubt a watch will be kept on the weather forecast.
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