Dave Seddon's verdict: Coventry City 0 Preston North End 1 - Frankie McAvoy has guided PNE to safety with room to spare
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The Scot did it in six games with two to spare. ‘Job done’ to quote a PNE manager of yesteryear.
Victory over Coventry at their temporary St Andrew’s ground saw a seventh season of Championship football signed and sealed.
Results elsewhere meant they were safe anyway but it was nice to get it done on their own accord.
It’s three wins, two draws and one defeat for McAvoy in his time at the helm, with games against Barnsley and Nottingham Forest to come before the beach towels are rolled out for the summer.
If he wants to land the job full-time, Alex Neil’s former assistant is making a strong claim for it.
In 35 days McAvoy has turned a tailspin in form into forward momentum.
Neil’s last five matches saw one point gained, seven goals conceded and only two scored.
Whether North End would be deep in relegation danger at this juncture had Neil stayed on, we can only guess at.
Perhaps he would have turned it round but ‘perhaps’ was too much of a risk. Hence making the change at the top and making McAvoy the main man on an interim basis, a different voice for the players to hear.
Credit where credit is due, the 53-year-old has seen the Lilywhites put 11 points on the board in his tenure.
They’ve bounced back from the 5-0 hammering by Brentford a fortnight ago to keep three clean sheets on the bounce.
Lessons have been learned from that game, no rash substitutions and changes in formation.
It’s 3-5-2 which in the main has carried Preston forward, given them solidity while having a duo up front.
The attack pairing has changed over the last couple of games, with it Ched Evans and Sean Maguire on Saturday.
Evans has been the constant all the way through, Emil Riis and Tom Barkhuizen also getting a go next to him.
The Welshman played a key role in this contest, earning the penalty which Alan Browne put away for the winner.
If truth be told, Evans should have had a penalty earlier in the second half when Sky Blues goalkeeper Ben Wilson took his legs from under him.
That one wasn’t given but referee Andy Woolmer had no choice but to point to the spot in the 67th minute.
Wilson was involved again, hauling down Evans after horribly misjudging the bounce of the ball on the edge of the box.
He was a touch fortunate not to be sent-off and didn’t even get shown a yellow card.
In the grand scheme of things it did not matter, Browne sent him thee wrong way from the spot and North End saw the rest of the game out with some comfort.
Coventry were also assured safety thanks to the bottom four all losing, four wins from five games prior to PNE’s visit putting them in good shape.
When the sides meet next season, this fixture will be back at the Ricoh Arena.
Coventry have lodged at St Andrew’s for the last two seasons and actually done very well despite it not being home.
They’ve won 20 out of their 39 ‘home’ matches, last season in League One having finished early when the campaign was curtailed.
So North End should get some credit for this win, don’t go down the line of thinking this was ‘just’ Coventry.
The game wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination.
There were good chances wasted at both ends on a day when quality was lacking.
It got a touch frantic at times with the ball given away too often. For a spell it got niggly too, raising the volume in the home section of the directors’ box.
North End shaded it in the end, one goal always looking like it would be enough.
It was a 10th victory on the road for them which is very decent going.
Only four clubs can better that number of away wins, all of them in the top six.
What has been their downfall this season is their home form, only six wins at Deepdale with just Barnsley’s visit to come next weekend.
For the trip down the M6, McAvoy limited himself to just one change and that was an enforced to some extent.
After two games in four games following a five-week injury lay-off, Greg Cunningham wasn’t feeling in tip-top shape.
So he was rested on the bench, with Maguire drafted into the side – Barkhuizen moving to the left wing-back slot vacated by Cunningham.
Maguire hadn’t started since Wycombe away on March 13, this his first chance in a front two under McAvoy.
Like at Stoke the week before, this was two teams playing the same formation and the opening spell of the game was so similar to events in the Potteries.
There was not a word written in my notepad from the opening 20 minutes.
However, then came two chances in a minute for the hosts, before North End had similar at the other end.
Max Biamou should have given Coventry the lead with their first real venture into the PNE box. Gustavo Hamer’s clever ball into the six-yard box saw Biamou dart in to meet in and lift his shot over the bar from three yards out.
Preston’s two chances in quick succession fell to ben Whiteman and Ryan Ledson, both making the keeper work.
Somehow they didn’t get a penalty in the 54th minute when Maguire’s pass slid in Evans on goal.
Wilson took him to ground as he tried to go past him, the ball not changing direction.
He didn’t get away with it 13 minutes later when Daniel Iversen launched a free-kick from deep in his own half.
Out stepped Wilson to the edge of his box to come and claim but he let it bounce and the ball travelled over him.
Evans stole in and would have been able to roll the ball into an unguarded net had Evans not jumped on his back and floored him.
Browne did the honours from the spot, his first penalty since missing for the Republic of Ireland in Slovakia six months ago.
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