Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 1 Birmingham City 1 - Wasted chances come back to bite PNE

A hat-trick of Championship wins was tantalisingly close for Ryan Lowe but wasteful play from his Preston North End side was to deny him that desired statistic.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 8:00 am

For 55 minutes of this game the Lilywhites held the lead at Deepdale, having gone in front through a flick of Patrick Bauer’s boot.

Having nudged ahead just after the half-hour, there was plenty of time for them to find a second goal to settle it.

This is a learning period for Lowe and from the touchline he witnessed a shortcoming in his side in not being able to take a game by the scruff of the neck and ram home an advantage.

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Preston North End celebrate scoring against Birmingham City at Deepdale

Having had much the better of the first half, North End were looser in the second and allowed the visitors to stay in the contest.

The second half still brought opportunities and promising moments but they weren’t taken advantage of.

Birmingham found the backdoor off the latch in the 86th minute to snatch an equaliser and head back to the Midlands with a point.

Were they worth it? In terms of troubling Daniel Iversen in the Preston goal, definitely not.

North End skipper Alan Browne goes past Birmingham's Ivan Sunjic

But when a team stays in the game and need just one chance to restore parity, you can argue that it is very much job done.

This was another point on the board for PNE as they made a delayed turn into the second half of the season.

It should have been three, though, when the list of chances to score a second goal is recalled.

Brad Potts poked a cross from Greg Cunningham straight at Neil Etheridge, the Blues keeper later clawing a Ben Whiteman cross away from the feet of Ched Evans.

PNE manager Ryan Lowe looks thoughtful during the Birmingham game

When North End hit the Blues on the counter-attack, Evans chose to go it alone and shoot rather than picking out Daniel Johnson with a pass which the midfielder would surely have stuck away.

There were other instances when passes in good areas weren’t quite right.

Hence they were bitten on the backside in the 86th minute, Scott Hogan producing a diving header to level the scores.

Hogan had come on as Birmingham manager Lee Bowyer rolled the dice and made a triple substitution in the 82nd minute.

North End's Brad Potts challenges Birmingham wing-back Jeremie Bela at Deepdale

Jobe Bellingham, the kid brother of England's Jude, and Ryan Woods also came on – Woods supplying the cross for Hogan to score.

Although disappointing to have had the lead snatched away late in the day, there were good aspects of PNE’s play which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Lowe assessed the display at being 60% of what he wants from the team he took over last month.

They are attacking with far more purpose than before his arrival from Plymouth, despite the creases which needed ironing out in the second half on Saturday.

North End’s possession count is going up, that not always a deal-breaker in a game, a sign however of more comfort on the ball and a willingness to play from the back.

The fans are buying into it and while 10,827 home fans in a crowd of 12,821 wasn’t a huge number, they got behind the team.

For a spell in the second half there were rousing choruses of ‘Ryan Lowe’s super white army’, the type of chant not heard for a good while – we are talking well before the lockdown of stadiums in spring 2020.

Seven points gathered from nine on offer over the last month is more than decent. Now the schedule gathers pace, with eight games between Tuesday night and February 12.

That spell of matches will be a good measure as to how things are progressing under Lowe’s watch.

After rotating the squad with four changes for the FA Cup game at Cardiff, Lowe reverted as closely as he could to what he probably considers his strongest side for Saturday’s clash.

Evans, Whiteman, Alan Browne and Andrew Hughes returned to the starting XI.

Hughes’ return to the left side of the back three saw Greg Cunningham shuffle across to fill the wing-back vacancy created by Josh Earl’s injury.

Cunningham I thought did well in that role but it is a position Lowe would like to do some work on in January.

Lowe had Potts playing the wide role on the right, a third game in a row he’d picked him.

Up front he partnered Evans with Emil Riis, the Dane just lacking on confidence at the moment and perhaps trying that bit too hard to impress his manager.

Of the two strikers, Evans was better by some distance and worked the Birmingham defence hard.

It was just unfortunate that his streetwise and physical display couldn’t lead to the second goal PNE so desired.

North End had chances to score before they did break the deadlock.

Hughes should have found the net with a header from a Whiteman corner but angled it wide of the far post.

A far harder chance fell Browne’s way after Etheridge had charged out of his box to beat Potts to a through ball from Evans. The keeper’s headed clearance was chased to the wing by Browne who lifted a shot back over him but wide of the target.

It was Etheridge in goal for Cardiff in September 2017 when Browne scored from 40 yards to win himself goal of the season.

PNE took a 31st minute lead, Whiteman sending in a corner which Etheridge came out to punch and barged into a colleague as he did.

The clearance travelled as far as Browne just outside the box, his low shot clipping off Bauer’s foot – a touch which took it inside the post.

A ragged start to the second half by PNE set the tone for 45 minutes of football which was more even than the first.

Birmingham posed more of a threat without having too many chances, their equaliser a late one – the clock had gone into the 86th minute.

Woods lifted a cross from the right channel into the box, Bauer appearing restricted by an injury as he failed to track Hogan’s run across him.

He stooped low to meet the cross at the near post and head past Iversen from six yards.

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