Dave Seddon's verdict: Nottingham Forest 1 Preston North End 2 - A five-year best winning sequence for PNE
Preston North End under Frankie McAvoy’s tutelage, have delivered plenty in the last few weeks.
Points on the board, clean sheets, Championship safety and a few goals are on the Scotsman’s CV as the day of reckoning approaches on who will be PNE’s next manager.
McAvoy can now add to that a winning sequence which had not been done for more than five years.
Victory over Nottingham Forest at a sodden City Ground on Saturday was North End’s fourth on the bounce.
Such a number evaded Alex Neil in his time in charge, four times PNE recording three wins in a row.
You have to go back to February 2016, the first season back at this level, to find four in a row.
Huddersfield, Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton were beaten then.
Wind the clock forward to the present day and the win at Forest came after Derby, Coventry and Barnsley had been put to the sword.
Beating Derby all but made PNE safe, the win at Coventry satisfied the mathematics.
It might have been easy to take the foot off the gas and start thinking about rolling out the beach towel in a green zone holiday destination.
North End have remained focused to put McAvoy right in contention for the job.
He’s remained steely in his determination to keep the results coming even as more and more of a gap between the Lilywhites and the bottom three opened up.
In the main McAvoy stuck with the same core of players to deliver points.
At the weekend no one would have begrudged him a couple of selections from the heart rather than the head.
For example to include Paul Gallagher among the subs as we speculate about a full-time move into coaching. Or an appearance for Louis Moult now that he’s back to fitness and his contract is running out.
However, McAvoy kept his eye on the ball in terms of putting points on the board. He was also keen to record a win on Gentry Day, a result which down the years has been rare.
There was perhaps a nod to next season, should he land the job, with recalls for Tom Bayliss and Scott Sinclair.
He wanted a good look at Bayliss, this only his second league start in a PNE shirt.
The purpose of Sinclair’s start was to see how he played as a central striker rather than out on the wing.
Sinclair and Bayliss were to link-up for the equaliser early in the second half. Then Bayliss was to play a big part in Preston’s winner which Liam Lindsay headed home.
The comeback was needed after a first-half rocket from James Garner had given Forest the lead.
Only twice before this season had PNE come from behind to win, at Brentford and Huddersfield.
Showing their powers of recovery a third time was another plus for McAvoy.
Forest gave them as good a game in the first half as they’d had since the heavy defeat to Brentford, in my opinion.
Their front four were full of movement and the hosts were by far the better side for 45 minutes.
North End flipped that state of play on its head in the second half, the goals from Bayliss and Lindsay squeezed into a 14-minute spell.
But either side they had a general control of the play and were to see things through quite comfortably.
The three points secured them 13th place, 18 points clear of the drop zone. The brief for McAvoy had been to stop the slide towards that end of the table, a job he did with flying colours.
The nine games prior to him being put in charge had resulted in a solitary win.
Results in the eight since speak for themselves – five wins, two draws, one defeat, 17 points.
Some will say McAvoy is too similar to Neil who PNE called time on in March, the pair having coached together since their days at Hamilton Academical. But McAvoy has stamped his mark on things within the restrictions he was working under. With the transfer window long shut, he had the same players.
He’s changed formation successful from 4-2-3-1 to the 3-5-2. Playing with two up front was the starting point of the rebuild by McAvoy, with him working back from there.
Ched Evans has played every game under McAvoy and after being partnered by Emil Riis, Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen at various times, got Sinclair for company on the final day.
Barkhuizen dropped to the bench to accommodate him, likewise Ben Whiteman so that Bayliss could get a run out in midfield. Both grew into the game, in line with their team-mates after Forest controlled things in the first half.
On the back foot or not, there was little North End could do to keep out Garner’s 17th minute opener.
There didn’t seem much danger when the ball was fed inside to him from the left, the Manchester United loanee taking possession a good 25 yards or so from goal.
PNE were slow to close him down but the shot he struck was excellent, it whistling past Daniel Iversen.
A few adjustments designed to link North End’s midfield play with Evans was to pay dividends, the visitors looking much better for it.
Sinclair and Bayliss were to drop off slightly to pull Forest out of their shape.
Both their goals drew some complaint from the hosts, the equaliser coming in the 53rd minute.
Ryan Ledson’s pass from just inside his own half was dummied by Evans, springing Sinclair behind the defence down the left channel.
He sped into the box and opened up his body to guide a right-foot effort across goal.
Whether it was a shot or cross, Bayliss used his left shoulder to take it over the line at the far post. Hand ball said Forest, goal signalled referee Darren Bond.
The second came in the 67th minute, Alan Browne coming back from an offside position when a cross field ball travelled past him and found its way to Bayliss.
The midfielder hung a cross up to the far post, Evans nodded it back and Lindsay got above Loic Mbe Soh to head into the roof of the net.
To the side of the net where the goals went in was spread a flag in honour of Preston's Gentry.
Hopefully this was a one-off in terms of Gentry Day being behind closed doors. Just think how good the away end would have been with a full contingent of away supporters.
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