Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 0 Nottingham Forest 1 - two-touch penalty debate kicks-off 2021

A touch of Lewis Grabban’s boot separated Preston and Nottingham Forest at a wintry Deepdale, or was it two touches from the Forest man?

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 3rd January 2021, 8:00 am

The talking point from this opening clash of 2021 was whether Grabban had a double touch of the ball when taking the 70th minute penalty awarded to the visitors.

Yes he did said North End boss Alex Neil, no he didn’t countered his opposite number Chris Hughton.

The view of the man who mattered most, referee Tim Robinson, was that Grabban’s spot-kick had gone in legitimately.

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Preston North End defender Ben Davies curls a shot against the bar in the defeat to Nottingham Forest at Deepdale

For his troubles, the West Sussex official got his ear bent by Neil for a couple of minutes as he tried to leave the pitch at the final whistle.

It was the first time I could recall such a debate after a game at Deepdale, indeed involving PNE anywhere.

We’ve seen similar in other games, not very often, but they have happened.

Grabban slipped just as he stepped-up to the spot, his right-foot shot appearing to clip his left before travelling towards goal and beating goalkeeper Declan Rudd.

Nottingham Forest celebrate Lewis Grabban's penalty against PNE

The Forest view, that of Hughton in the post-match press conference, was that the striker had kicked his other foot rather than the ball.

In the Premier League it is the type of thing VAR picks up but in the EFL it is down to the officials to make the call the best they can.

This one fell the wrong way for the Lilywhites and while annoying, they had enough chances in the game for it not to have been a major issue.

Twice they hit the bar, twice they stretched Forest keeper Brice Samba to his limits and a couple of times shots went too high.

PNE manager Alex Neil and right-back Darnell Fisher argue their case to referee Tim Robinson at the final whistle

Those half-dozen or so chances all came in the second half as the hosts emerged from a first-half deep freeze to give this game a right go.

For the opening 45 minutes they had hibernated in their own half, soaking up the bits of pressure Forest had.

Neil’s explanation was that he wanted a side showing three changes to its midfield, time to grow into the game.

It made for a drab first half, a non-event on a chilly day when snow had fallen before kick-off, requiring a yellow ball and coloured lines on the pitch.

North End winger Tom Barkhuizen sends a shot against the Nottingham Forest bar

The fact the conversation was still about the weather come the interval, best summed-up the state of the first-half play.

North End’s second-half display was much better but ultimately not enough to get anything from the game.

It brought to an end their run of three wins and also the clean sheet sequence.

The penalty was the first goal PNE had conceded in 350 minutes of football since Barnsley’s winner on December 15.

Credit then to the defence that it took a spot-kick to breach them.

In Ben Davies, they had the best performer of the afternoon.

Those who worry that the contract situation might prove a distraction, need not have fretted on Saturday.

Similarly, Daniel Johnson was on song further up the pitch, trusted too with the armband in the absence of Alan Browne.

Johnson was PNE’s forward thrust from midfield when they finally turned on the burners after half-time.

The skipper’s company in the engine room came in the form of Ryan Ledson and Tom Bayliss.

Ledson was back in the side after injury and a couple of games on the bench, for Bayliss this was his first start in the Championship – 16 months after signing from Coventry .

Bayliss did okay, spreading the ball around well on a few occasions.

Some of his play came across as a touch unsure, maybe due to the unfamiliarity of having a starting role.

Neil post-match as near as damn it, promised him a start at Wycombe in the FA Cup next weekend..

That is the next stage of the 21-year-old’s development, a run of games in which to try and find some consistency.

North End returned to a 4-2-3-1 after going with a back three against Coventry in Christmas week.

Tom Barkhuizen and Brad Potts provided the width, the improved second-half show having plenty to do with the pair getting more involved after being on the fringes for 45 minutes.

Sean Maguire worked alone up front, getting through plenty of work as he tried to bring others into the game.

The first half is barely worth covering, a shot blazed too high by Forest’s Anthony Knockaert early doors the only highlight.

PNE looked a great deal more adventurous from the first whistle of the second half, begging the question why they been so reluctant to be as forward from the start.

Barkhuizen was so close to breaking the deadlock eight minutes after the interval.

Johnson chased Bayliss’ pass down the right, got to the byline and cut the ball back.

It clipped off Joe Worrall’s foot and looped towards Barkhuizen who aimed a header goalwards.

Samba adjusted his feet to spring to the left and tip the ball past the post.

Barkhuizen struck the bar two minutes later, the ball having broken across the box into his path. He stepped inside past the covering defender and curled a shot against the top of the bar.

Forest won their penalty when Darnell Fisher stumbled in front of Cafu and used an arm to block his shot.

Grabban for the third time scored from the spot against PNE, having done so in the same fixture in July and also for Aston Villa in 2017/18.

Preston visited the Town End bar again in the 82nd minute, a corner bouncing around in the box before being played outside to Johnson.

His pass found Davies who showed good movement to work the ball on to his left foot and hit a rising shot which rattled the woodwork.

The last roll of the dice was in the eighth minute of time added on – five signalled but a substitution and an injury to Samba Sow extending it.

Paul Gallagher’s free-kick stayed low to beat the wall, the keeper going to his left to shovel it behind.

No late drama then, as there had been at Derby a week earlier, thus ending the unbeaten run.

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