Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 1 Norwich City 1 - Positive first steps for Frankie McAvoy

No one was expecting Frankie McAvoy to wave a magic wand after taking the role of Preston North End interim head coach.

Saturday, 3rd April 2021, 8:00 am

Therefore putting a point on the board against league leaders Norwich City, however late in the day it was achieved and how unjust the visitors thought it was, can only be seen a step forward.

The 1-1 draw halted a run of three defeats and Brad Potts' 95th minute equaliser was the first goal they had scored since sharing the spoils with Bournemouth a month ago.

Although North End dropped a position, they inched a point further ahead of third-bottom Rotherham United who are muddying the waters in the battle at the foot of the table.

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Preston North End goalscorer Brad Potts is pursued by Andrew Hughes as he runs to celebrate

It is the Millers' four games in hand which have the potential to drag others - including the Lilywhites - into trouble, hence it is important to keep as much of a gap as possible between them.

There is nothing radical McAvoy will be able to do over these remaining games as he looks to keep the club safe and ensure a seventh successive season of Championship football.

He's working with the same squad of players which Alex Neil had taken as far as he could before being relieved of his duties at the start of the international break.

For McAvoy, it will be a case of trying to squeeze a little more from them, a different voice and different approach hopefully the pathway to better results.

PNE interim head coach Frankie McAvoy with Steve Thompson and Mike Pollitt on the bench at Deepdale

Unity within the squad won't be a problem if the scenes when North End's last-gasp leveller hit the back of the net are anything to go by.

Potts headed straight to the technical area to celebrate with McAvoy, the interim disappearing under a scrum of players and coaching staff.

Unused substitute Paul Huntington bounded down the steps from the stand to join in the celebrations, underlining that togetherness.

Tactically, McAvoy had chosen to do something different to what Neil had been doing, when choosing how to take Norwich on.

North End defender Jordan Storey goes up for a first-half header from a corner

He opted to play a midfield diamond behind a front two - using a pair of strikers had rarely been an approach used by Neil.

The one time I recall Neil going with a diamond was at Barnsley last season and that resulted in a 3-0 win.

On Good Friday, McAvoy played Ryan Ledson at the base of the diamond, Daniel Johnson and Tom Barkhuizen in front of him, with Scott Sinclair at the point of it behind Ched Evans and the recalled Emil Riis.

It meant little attacking width, the idea when North End didn't have the ball being to channel the Canaries out to the wings rather than allow them to build through the middle.

PNE celebrate their equaliser with a pile-on

When they were in possession it gave them more bodies up the pitch than in recent games when Evans had cut an isolated figure.

McAvoy was quite pleased with how it had worked, even if he was to tinker with it in the second half as Preston lost their way and ran out of ideas.

The hint seemed to be that we could see the diamond again at some stage, it not necessarily picked with Norwich in mind.

"It is one (a formation) I like to be honest," said McAvoy post-match.

"We had to make sure we worked hard when we didn't have the ball, while putting two up front we had to try and cause the opposition as many problems as we could.

"I like that set-up, it was the first time the players had played that way although we had worked on it a few times.

"They liked it but is a real shift for the three lads behind the two strikers."

In Norwich, PNE were facing the best team in the division by a long chalk.

That might seem like an obvious statement when you look at the table and see Daniel Farke's men sat eight points clear at the summit.

They had won nine games on the bounce before a 1-1 draw with Blackburn in their last outing before the international break.

So there is no way Preston should sniff at the point gained yesterday. You might even describe it as a bonus point, bearing in mind some people didn't give them a hope in hell of getting anything.

In the build-up, Farke had been vocal about the fact this game was being played less than 48 hours after some of his squad had been on the pitch in international games.

He was without a couple of his international players but his starting XI still included class acts such as Emiliano Buendia - scorer of their goal - Todd Cantwell, Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki.

Finland international Pukki is fantastic at this level but fortunately hadn't packed his shooting boots for the trip to Lancashire.

He had three one-on-ones, crashing a shot against the underside of the bar and putting the two others wide.

Buendia showed him how it should be done when he gave the visitors side an 18th minute lead, one which looked suffice to send the three points back to East Anglia before Potts' late intervention.

North End were generous in their defending for the goal, a Pukki shot which struck Liam Lindsay in the groin area starting the build-up to it.

Rather than going after the loose ball, there was more concern over how Lindsay was as he tried to get his breath back from the sharp blow.

Buendia moved towards the box, Barkhuizen's being the only challenge he had to swerve before sweeping a fine left-foot finish past Daniel Iversen's dive into the far bottom corner.

Three minutes before the goal, Riis had run clear on to Evans' flick from a Barkhuizen pass to get clear in the box, only for the Dane to put his shot too close to Tim Krul who saved with an out-stretched boot.

How many times have we seen that this season? A missed chance at one end followed by a decisive finish at the other.

The second half was scrappy, North End unable to find much rhythm to their play and Norwich happy to pick them off.

McAvoy introduced Jayson Molumby and then Potts, before throwing on Anthony Gordon, Sean Maguire and Ben Whiteman all at once.

All subs were made by the 71st minute, at least allowing them time to try and force their way into the game.

Even the most patient and optimistic Preston fans must have thought this wasn't going to their side's afternoon when the signalled four minutes of stoppage-time had been played.

What the fourth official puts on the board is the minimum time as we have been reminded many times, and the clock had ticked into the fifth minute when Ledson launched a long ball forward from the centre circle.

Potts brought it down near the corner of the box, Bali Mumba standing-off giving the midfielder the room to turn and hit a low right-foot shot which went through the legs of Andrew Omobamidele and caught enough of a deflection to take it past Krul.

How important this point proves to be, we will see on May 8 when this slog of a season comes to a conclusion.

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