Dave Seddon's verdict: Birmingham 0 Preston North End 1 - Counter-attack is the way forward for PNE
A strength of Preston North End under Alex Neil is their ability on the counter-attack.
They’ve stacked up quite a few goals on the break during Neil’s time in charge and it was a swift move between the boxes which delivered victory at Birmingham.
Scott Sinclair finished it after being involved in the build-up with new boys Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby. It was quality, incisive football on an evening when the conditions made sections of this game a tough watch.
Heavy rain and sleet lashed St Andrew’s for the most part, the pitch wet and heavy.
But for a 20-minute spell after half-time PNE mastered the conditions, moved the ball better than they had done in the first half and got their reward with Sinclair’s winner.
If you look back at some of this season’s goals, you’ll find a decent number scored on the counter.
A couple of their quartet of goals at Brentford came that way, likewise in the victory against Reading.
At Bournemouth last month, North End sliced open the Cherries for the first and second goals on the break.
Thinking further back, how’s about that classic counter at Leeds on Boxing Day 2019 finished off by Alan Browne?
Wednesday night’s winner came as the contest ticked into the last half-hour. Whiteman got possession 10 yards outside his own box from a Birmingham flick-on.
His driven, low pass found Sinclair on the halfway line who flicked it to find Molumby in the centre circle.
Molumby moved up the gears as he drove forward and play in Sinclair on the right-hand side of the box.
Sinclair pulled the trigger just as Harlee Dean slid across to try and block, his right-foot shot pinpoint accurate as it found the far bottom corner.
That’s eight for the season for Sinclair, seven of them coming on PNE’s travels.
Last January’s signing from Celtic might not sparkle in every game he plays but he offers Preston so much when hitting top note.
The counter-attack had looked the most likely route to goal for Neil’s men all night.
Their one chance of a drab first half came when they defended their box at a corner, Brad Potts leading the charge with a pass to find Browne over-lapping down the left.
The skipper cut inside off the line and curled a shot just beyond the far post.
Birmingham had looked the more likely scorers in the opening 45 minutes but only tested Daniel Iversen once.
That was a good test of the Dane though, Iversen plunging low to his left to parry Ivan Sanchez’ shot.
A big feature of the first half was Emil Riis getting caught offside, doing so five or six times – Neil said later it felt ‘like a 100’ and it did.
Riis was back in the side in place of the injured Sean Maguire, one of four changes to the starting XI.
The tall frontman got his timings better in the second half, no doubt after a few words at the interval.
Just four minutes into the second half he ran on to a ball from Sinclair to get behind the Birmingham defence and square a pass inside to find the run of Potts – his shot came back off the foot of the near post.
A minute or so later, Potts forced a good save from keeper Neil Etheridge with a shot from the edge of the box.
Sinclair had the ball taken off his toes by Etheridge after running on to a Riis pass.
Those chances came in the run-up to the winning goal, Neil identifying that spell after half-time as being decisive.
It wasn’t all plain sailing after that, Neil’s mood certainly darkening when he realised fourth official Jeremy Simpson was about to put seven minutes of stoppage time on the board.
Blues sub Jonathan Leko sent a shot bouncing just wide in added-on time, while Iversen dived to smother a scuffed shot from Gary Gardner.
For PNE, Molumby was the stand-out player with a display packed with energy in the advanced midfield role. It was little wonder the on-loan Brighton man suffered cramp in the latter stages and came off.
This was a seventh away victory for PNE, only leaders Norwich boasting more wins on the road.
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