Dave Seddon's Preston North End Press View: FA Cup tie at Cardiff was soulless - and costly - in an empty stadium

I guess most Preston North End fans had forgotten about the FA Cup exit to Cardiff City last Sunday by the time they reached for the remote control and switched off S4C.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 14th January 2022, 4:45 pm

It was a cup tie which is easily forgotten if you are of a PNE persuasion, hence I’ll apologise now for revisiting it in this column.

What it served to do was re-emphasis just how poor an experience football behind closed doors is.

I hoped that era in our game was behind us, having sat through the re-start games at the end of the 2019/20 season and then the whole of the 2020/21 campaign.

Preston North End's FA Cup clash with Cardiff City was played behind closed doors last week

As a journalist, I was fortunate to be able to attend games when restrictions were on, not that the experience was a particularly good one.

The Cardiff cup clash was like turning the clock back to last season, that down to the Welsh Government’s ban on supporters attending sports events.

The walk from entering the Cardiff City Stadium to the press box was one made through empty concourses and stairways.

There was just a handful of stewards to nod to, a very decent bunch I must say both from Sunday’s visit and previous trips there.

The atmosphere was nil, the only noise being shouting on the pitch and a few choice words from North End boss Ryan Lowe on the sidelines.

The standard of play was hit by having no fans there, of that I’m convinced.

Both teams did their best but you could tell there was an edge to the game missing.

Cardiff v North End, two sides from the Championship, was never going to be a classic.

Playing it against a backdrop of silence just lowered the level of expectation further.

Thankfully it looks like North End will avoid a second helping of Welsh behind closed doors at Swansea next week.

It restrictions on sports event are set to lift next Friday, just in time for PNE’s visit to the Liberty Stadium.

Both Cardiff and North End missed out on gate receipts last Sunday. Had a crowd been allowed in, I’m not saying it would have been a big one.

Nevertheless there would have ticket money to divide between the two clubs as is the way in the FA Cup.

At a time when many clubs are still recovering from more than a season playing behind closed doors and having no revenue, to have got nothing was a blow.

The £48,000 broadcast fee for it being shown by S4C softened the blow slightly but hardly busted the bank.

Another nark from the game, more so the FA Cup as a whole, is the fact VAR is used in some ties and not in others.

Only games played on Premier League grounds have VAR, the others just rely on the instant judgement of the referee and assistants.

I’m not alone in thinking it should be all or nothing.

It would probably be unrealistic to have VAR set up at every ground when you bear in mind the technology needed and the referees to work it – although I do sometimes wonder what they are watching at Stockley Park.

So why not switch off VAR for the FA Cup and make it a level playing field?

The same rules whether you are playing at Old Trafford or Aggborough Stadium.

VAR might actually have helped North End at Cardiff when Curtis Nelson played basketball in his penalty box at the end of extra-time.

He got away with handball courtesy of referee Andy Woolmer spotting the slightest of contact between him and Ched Evans.

Mr Woolmer instead gave a free-kick to Cardiff rather than PNE a penalty.

It’s gone now but it was annoying at the time, especially after a few views of the replay.

What rubbed salt into the wound afterwards was Cardiff being drawn away at Liverpool in the fourth round.

Had PNE won, they would have been the same numbered ball in the draw and we’d be off to Anfield next month.

It’s Hull City away instead that weekend, a trip which should attract a good following but not of the quality a fourth round clash would have been.

Against Cardiff I felt that North End missed some key players who for one reason or another didn’t start or who were sidelined.

Ben Whiteman, Alan Browne and Evans were among the substitutes, with Andrew Hughes nursing an injury and not involved.

Hughes did make the trip as he wanted to be involved with the squad, that a sign of some decent team spirit.

Moving on from Cardiff, the big piece of news from Deepdale this week was the announcement about the derby clash with Blackpool.

Thanks to a cheese and wine party being thrown by the Tory Party in Blackpool, otherwise known as their Spring party conference, the clash has moved from March 19 to April 5.

With a huge police presence needed at the seaside for the visit of Boris Johnson and Co – if indeed Boris is still Prime Minister by then – on March 19, the clubs were asked to move the Deepdale fixture.

So it’s now on April 5 which would have been Sir Tom Finney’s 100th birthday.

North End fans will have part of the Kop for the game, significant for a couple of reasons. For starters, some PNE fans have longed asked to be allowed back at that end of the ground to help create a better atmosphere.

Secondly, their relocation means Blackpool will be limited to an allocation of around 2,000 tickets.

Basically, PNE have chosen to look after their fans on this occasion, as the Seasiders did theirs at the reverse fixture in October.

The fact Preston were denied a 3,100 allocation given to Blackburn, Barnsley and Middlesbrough and instead limited to 2,200, meant they were never going to give the full Kop to Blackpool.

PNE have listened to their fans and should be applauded for doing so.

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