Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 1 Swansea City 1 - A Scott Sinclair special and a masterclass from Ben Pearson
Scott Sinclair’s first goal for Preston North End was never going to be a tap-in.
It had to be beautiful and magical to match the excitement his arrival last month generated among the PNE faithful.
Sinclair, the only North End signing of the window just shut, had one thing on his mind the moment he collected a throw-in 35 yards out.
He spun and set off a run goalwards, his shot from just inside the box curling perfectly into the far corner.
In a first half when the hosts were not on their game, Sinclair’s strike was just what was needed.
Unfortunately it only had them in front for five minutes before Rhian Brewster poked Swansea level and proceeded to impress absolutely no one in the Alan Kelly Town End with a needless celebration right in front of them.
There ended the scoring for the afternoon but in fact the game got measurably better in the second half, in particular PNE’s performance.
Chances were few and far between until the closing few minutes but if anyone looked like they were going to win it, North End were that team.
A draw was probably about right in the fact neither side quite did enough to win it.
But in Sinclair, they had their marquee signing off the mark in his fourth appearance and hopefully on his way to plenty more.
While Sinclair’s talent is there for all to see, the best player on the pitch was his team-mate Ben Pearson.
He set the tone with a run to get back and stop Bersant Celina’s early break down the Invincibles side of the pitch.
That run saw him make up yards on the Kosovan, winning a throw-in.
Throughout the game he was PNE’s go-to player, always available for a pass.
Pearson was on the end of a high and late challenge from Brewster in the second half for which the on-loan Liverpool man was perhaps fortunate to only be booked.
Brewster later showed his appreciation to Geoff Eltringham for the let-off by picking up the yellow card which the County Durham referee had dropped on the floor.
Are we seeing a more mature Pearson these days?
This was a fifth game running without a caution – he’s only had two in the last 13.
While it was Sinclair who got the sponsors’ man of the match award, Pearson would have been the pick of the vast majority inside a windswept Deepdale.
This was not the victory PNE were seeking against the side one place below them in the table.
But in a game which held the status of must not lose, a draw was okay.
Defeat needed to be avoided mainly to stop Swansea hopping above them and to keep in close touch with the top six.
Also, with a bit of angst doing the rounds following the close of the window, the last thing needed was a loss.
In the opening 20 minutes they lived a little dangerously with Swansea having the better of it.
Sinclair’s goal established them in the game and while the lead was soon scrubbed, after that they rarely looked like losing it.
PNE finished the stronger but without being able to turn a point into all three.
Selection wise, Alex Neil went same again following the win at Barnsley 11 days before.
That was not surprising bearing in mind they had won 3-0 but the challenge for Neil was fitting the starting XI into a different formation.
A repeat of the 4-4-2 diamond used at Oakwell would have left too much space for the Swans’ wide players.
So it was back to 4-2-3-1, Tom Barkhuizen leading the attack.
Sinclair played on the right-wing, Josh Harrop tucked inside on the left with Daniel Johnson as the No.10.
Neil admitted post-match to having ‘shoehorned’ them all in, Alan Browne the company further back for Pearson in the middle.
Swansea’s front three posed a threat early on, Andre Ayew in particular seeing a lot of the ball.
It was all a bit stop-start too, Ayew one of three players from the visitors to go down and needing treatment which didn’t help the flow.
Sinclair’s 28th minute goal was North End’s first chance of the game.
Darnell Fisher’s throw came his way down the right channel, Sinclair going through the gears as he moved towards the box.
His pace saw him hold off a challenge from behind and two defenders didn’t commit as he moved across the face of the penalty area.
A yard inside the box Sinclair guided a left-foot shot beyond the keeper into the far corner of the net.
Swansea’s equaliser was frustrating, Conor Gallagher exchanging passes with Ayew before sending Ayew away down the right-hand side of the box.
First impressions were that Ayew was offside but on closer examination, Patrick Bauer looked to be playing him on just about.
Ayew’s angled shot clipped off Declan Rudd’s leg and ran across the six-yard box where Brewster stuck out a leg to knock it into the net.
The celebration in front of the home end was rather unnecessary, the PNE fans having no beef with him.
The two teams cancelled one another out for spells of the second half.
With David Nugent on for Harrop, with Barkhuizen out wide and Sinclair coming inside to find space, North End began to get on top.
Two chances fell their way as the game got to 90 minutes and beyond.
Bauer’s downward header from a Browne cross bounced up off the turn and had to be helped over by the keeper.
Then two minutes into time added on, Rudd’s free-kick was flicked on by sub Sean Maguire.
Browne latched on to it just inside the box but lifted his shot too high.
The gap between seventh and sixth grew from two to three points, PNE still very much in touch but in need of a win at Wigan to make sure it doesn’t extend.
More magic from Sinclair could be the order of the day to help close the gap.