Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 0 Swansea 1 - plenty to put right as Lilywhites slip-up at Deepdale
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Defeat is rarely taken well by the fanbase but this reverse caused a particularly high level of angst for those who watched on iFollow.
They saw a familiar scene played out as North End struggled to pose an attacking threat – new season, old problem.
Swansea were hardly razor sharp themselves going forward but they got the goal which mattered.
Whether the cameras picked out Daniel Johnson sat in the Invincibles Pavilion I don’t know but the 10th row of the stand was the nearest he got to the pitch.
We didn’t get an official explanation for the midfielder not playing, Alex Neil’s mood post-match seeing the PNE boss unwilling to discuss it.
So we can only assume Johnson is off to Rangers very soon or at least wants to go.
Speculation emerged 24 hours before the game that the Glasgow outfit were sniffing after DJ.
The fact he didn’t feature points to them being close to getting their man and the loss to PNE of another top scorer.
It was Jordan Hugill in January 2018 at a time when he’d scored 10 goals in the first half of the season.
Last summer it was Callum Robinson after a 13-goal haul, next it could be Johnson who was the scorer of a dozen goals in the 2109/20 campaign.
The lack of an attacking threat and Johnson being absent went hand-in-hand.
His creativity was badly missed as Swansea threw a light blue block in front of North End.
The search for a new striker not bearing fruit by Saturday, added to the bluntness going forward.
Neil chose a front line of pace and trickery, with Tom Barkhuizen flanked by Billy Bodin and Scott Sinclair.
That trio rarely looked like finding a route to goal, only when Barkhuizen moved wide to accommodate the arrival from the bench of Sean Maguire and Jayden Stockley, did he have Preston’s best chance of the match.
Further back on the pitch, Alan Browne didn’t seem too thrilled to be played at right-back.
His preference is to play in midfield and the fact he drifted inside more than once instead of holding the width, was a sign of him playing out of position.
So plenty for Neil to mull over once he’d shaken off the grumpy mood which accompanied him to the post-match press conference.
This was a fifth year in a row that PNE’s opening game had ended 1-0 either way.
They’d lost at Millwall by that scoreline last season, before that beating Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday at home. In 2016 they had lost 1-0 at Reading.
Saturday was typical Championship fodder when the first goal was to prove so important. From early on, it had the look and feel of a game where a single goal would be enough.
Swansea got it early in the second half having served a warning just before when they had one disallowed.
From then on they invited PNE to attack, having the confidence that they could hold out.
Aside a flowing move which led to Barkhuizen running into the box and seeing a shot come back off the keeper, there were few signs of the visitors being cracked open.
Things can of course change quickly in football but the Lilywhites could do with a push to help that happen.
We should know soon Johnson’s intentions. If he does head north to Glasgow, hopefully that would release more funds to bring in a striker.
With the model Preston operate, there will be sales of popular players along the way.
When they are buying potential and polishing it into more of a finished product, it attracts the attention of other clubs.
It is how the transfer money received is reinvested which will prove vital.
A striker has to be top of the shopping list, and do you also replace Johnson – if he does go – internally or from the outside?
Until Rangers’ interest emerged, he was a certainty to start this one.
Brad Potts stepped in as his replacement, playing behind the front three in a 4-2-3-1.
In the second half when Neil switched to three at the back, Potts stayed in that advanced role supporting Sean Maguire and Jayden Stockley.
The starting forward line had been used at Sheffield United in the penultimate friendly a week last Friday.
So too had been the deeper midfield pairing of Ryan Ledson and Ben Pearson.
Things were a bit different at the back, Browne coming back from international duty to get the nod at right-back.
The Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies partnership was broken up, with Jordan Storey preferred ahead of Bauer.
In the first half both sides rather cancelled one another out, with little action in either of the boxes.
PNE seemed to favour coming down the left to attack, with Sinclair and Andrew Hughes doing their best to link-up.
Swansea’s strength was down their left too, with Jake Bidwell pushed high up the pitch as a wing-back.
Bidwell proved key in the Swans’ winning goal, being found in plenty of space by Andre Ayew’s diagonal ball.
His low cross into the middle should really have been cut out by Storey but it went past him and into the path of Morgan Gibbs-White who knocked it home.
Against the backdrop of an empty ground, Preston could not find the necessary spark to force an equaliser.
Barkhuizen ran on to Potts’ pass only to put his shot too close to keeper Freddie Woodman.
A Stockley header also didn’t stretch Woodman, while a couple of late shots from Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher bounced off Swansea players in the box.
Derby next in the cup and then on to Norwich. Welcome to the new season.