Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 1 Bristol City 0 - a pre-Christmas bonus for PNE

Preston North End needed a win to carry into Christmas and they must have rubbed their hands in glee that Bristol City were their visitors a week before the big day.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 19th December 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Sunday, 20th December 2020, 11:06 am

They have a ridiculously good record against the Robins over the last seven years, unbeaten now in 15 meetings.

Friday night was the ninth victory in the sequence and one of the most hard fought.

After bossing the first half and taking the lead through a Daniel Johnson penalty, they came under some intense pressure in the second.

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Daniel Johnson prepares to take Preston North End's penalty against Bristol City at Deepdale

PNE stood up to what the visitors offered, in the shape of some good goalkeeping from Declan Rudd and some good old fashioned defending from Paul Huntington.

In Paul Gallagher, they had the contest’s senior figure who used every ounce of his experience to spark North End going forward.

Bristol City must be sick to death of the Lilywhites and were to complain they didn’t get the rub of the green with some key refereeing decisions.

They felt the penalty was soft and were to question why Darnell Fisher didn’t receive a second yellow card followed by red in the second half.

PNE winger Scott Sinclair goes down in the box after being challenged by Bristol City defender Taylor Moore

Perhaps fortune shone on PNE but at times you do have to make your own luck.

Away defeats to Luton and Barnsley had made this a must-not lose game, this maybe not the stage of the season where must-win applies.

Three defeats inside a week would have ramped-up the unrest among some fans.

As it is, the run-up to Christmas can now be a touch more relaxed, North End’s focus being on recharging the batteries ahead of the festive fixtures.

North End striker Sean Maguire tries to get away from Bristol City;s Zak Vyner

They earned that right with this hard-working display which satisfied Alex Neil a great deal.

Neil has been feeling the pressure lately – from the fans rather than the board – and will welcome some respite.

He got plenty right in this one, the team having a decent balance about it.

The subs Neil made as the second half went along, were sensible ones and helped see them over the line.

PNE's Daniel Johnson appeals to the referee

Neil’s chosen celebration of this win could well be a couple of days lying down in a darkened room. It was the last of nine games squashed into less than a month.

PNE’s record in that spell has been four wins, four defeats and one draw.

If anything during this past month, results at Deepdale have improved.

This was a third home win, although in among those was the shocker of the derby loss to Blackburn.

The home and away form has started to even out, Preston growing in confidence on their own patch.

Sky Sports had their cameras here for this clash, much of their pre-match focus trained on the fact Bristol City had made the trip missing 10 first-team players.

PNE goalkeeper Declan Rudd comes out to try and block Antoine Semenyo's shot

North End had their fair share missing too, Andrew Hughes writing his name back on the injured list, joining Ben Pearson Patrick Bauer, Ryan Ledson and Brad Potts.

Neil flipped back to his favoured 4-2-3-1 system after going with a 3-5-2 at Barnsley last Tuesday.

It only required two changes for the formation switch, Huntington in for Hughes and Sinclair getting the nod over Emil Riis.

The spine of the team had good games – Declan Rudd, Huntington, Ben Davies, Gallagher and Sean Maguire.

There will always be critics of Maguire for his scoring record but you couldn’t doubt his work-rate in this one.

Maguire was to be replaced by Riis later on, the Dane’s cameo maintaining the strength down the spine.

Riis was able to find the space left by City as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser and was unlucky not to score in stoppage-time.

Early on in the night, there was little to entertain the TV audience but once the game got beyond the first quarter of an hour it began to liven up considerably.

The award of the penalty was the cue for a more lively encounter.

It had its origins down the left channel, the ball worked to Gallagher whose pass found Sinclair inside the box.

Sinclair cut across the face of goal and was clipped by Taylor Moore.

Down to ground the winger went, the ball rolling to Tom Barkhuizen who hammered a shot against the bar.

Deeming there had been no advantage by letting play run, referee Geoff Eltringham brought it back and gave a penalty.

Johnson, who had missed his last spot kick at Reading, made no mistake this time from 12 yards.

Sinclair put a volley too close to the keeper just before half-time after Barkhuizen had motored up the wing and put over a pinpoint cross.

A double substitution and accompanying formation change at the break gave City far more zip.

Antoine Semenyo and Tyreeq Bakinson joined the fray, Semenyo in particular being hard to handle.

His header four minutes into the second half was saved routinely by Rudd but there were to be bigger tests of his goalkeeping later on.

Twice he denied Callum O’Dowda half an hour apart.

In the 56th minute, Rudd dived to his right to palm away the midfielder’s 20-yarder.

Then with four minutes of the regulation 90 left, O’Dowda got the better of Joe Rafferty in the air to send a header goalwards.

Rudd was equal to it, with him tipping the effort over the bar.

While City did have more of the second half their own way, PNE had their moments too.

A few times they worked themselves up the pitch to get into promising areas. Chances wise, two fell to Tom Bayliss and Riis.

It was Riis who created the 85th minute chance for fellow sub Bayliss, with a run which carried him across the pitch from his own half.

Bayliss put his shot over the bar, Riis going closer with stoppage-time just started.

Sinclair carried the ball up the pitch and played in Riis down the left side of the box.

He aimed his low shot at the far corner, Daniel Bentley getting the slightest of touches to take it past the post.

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