Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 2 Hull City 1 - Second-half togetherness delivers victory for PNE at Deepdale
Patience, togetherness and a cracking double substitution got Preston North End over the line on what at times was a difficult afternoon at Deepdale.
Hull, against who PNE had endured their poorest result of the season in the reverse fixture three months ago - a 4-0 reverse on Humberside - threatened to heap another dose of misery on them.
The Tigers opening the scoring five minutes before half-time saw a breakout of frustration among some North End supporters.
One felt it necessary to point the finger at Declan Rudd in a vocal sense when the whistle went for half-time, the PNE goalkeeper opting not to take it lying down and having his say back.
Others sat in the vicinity on the Alan Kelly Town End had a pop back at the disgruntled chap – coming down firmly on the side of Rudd.
A galvanising moment in proceedings? Perhaps it was.
The Lilywhites faithful were certainly as one in the second half as their side bounced back to first equalise and then nudge in front.
If the cheer that greeted Paul Gallagher’s equaliser from the penalty spot was loud, the volume was turned to 11 when Alan Browne rose to head the winner.
The midfielder was on the pitch as a substitute, as was Jayden Stockley who set him up with a peach of a cross.
You might have expected it to be the other way round, Browne with the assist for the towering Stockley to meet.
As it was, Stockley’s cross was as good as any winger could have supplied and the way Browne hung in the air to steer home the header was one a centre-forward would have been proud.
The half-time exchange between Rudd and the fan was a topic PNE boss Alex Neil raised post-match without much prompting.
Not in any way to do him down but to underline the importance of staying with the players throughout.
Neil could not understand why his keeper had been singled-out in the first place.
And while everyone has a right to voice criticism, is the interval the right time to do it with another 45 minutes left to play?
North End were a goal behind, hardly down and out.
Accepted, they hadn’t been good in the first half but there was mileage left in this game – as there is in any game at 1-0.
The below par 45 minutes followed a disappointing last hour the week before against Millwall.
It was probably that which tipped the Town End critic over the edge but his actions were premature and for the second half Neil’s men were a lot better.
“These boys run through brick walls for this club,” said Neil.
“When it is not going well and not going right for us, we don’t want to start finger-pointing.
“What we need to do is rally, get together and lift each other to spur each other on to win.”
That is what happened in the second period, Preston going up a couple of gears which was greatly appreciated in the stands.
Neil reasoned, probably rightly, that anxiety is creeping in the closer PNE get to the business end of the season still firmly in the promotion picture.
With 12 games left, his side sit in sixth place, level on points with the two sides immediately above them and only one shy of Fulham who occupy third spot.
Consistency wise, this is the best season North End have had in this division for many a year. While the recent displays at Deepdale have not been great, PNE fans are watching the team with the best home record in the section.
Nerves need to be held on and off the pitch over the coming weeks to keep the eyes on the prize.
In response to the Millwall defeat, Neil had made four changes to the starting XI.
Daniel Johnson missed out through injury but the other three were voluntary on the manager’s part, with Darnell Fisher, Gallagher, Josh Harrop and Sean Maguire coming in.
Fisher added some drive at right-back, engaging in some fun and games with Josh Magennis just 20 seconds into the contest which saw them both tangling on the floor.
He was later to earn the penalty which brought his side level.
Gallagher was in to try and bring some control to PNE’s midfield play, Harrop was given the No.10 role and Maguire operated up front.
The hosts’ two chances of the first half were a glancing header from Maguire which dropped just wide and then a Tom Barkhuizen header clawed away by City keeper George Long.
Hull took a 40th minute lead, a corner on the left played short to Callum Elder who put over a first-time cross.
It travelled over four PNE players, winger Mallik Wilks left unmarked to head in from barely four yards.
An equaliser should have come 10 minutes into the second half when Gallagher’s ball played in Fisher down the right hand side of the box.
He flicked it across goal to Maguire, the ball hitting him on the thigh and bouncing goalwards only for Reece Burke to clear off the line.
Browne and Stockley were summoned from the bench to replace Maguire and Scott Sinclair – the January arrival having been rather quiet it has to be said.
The change gave energy to PNE, Browne shouting loudly for a penalty when he was clipped in the box.
In the same passage of play, Fisher got possession and went to ground as he moved between Magennis and Elder.
Referee Stephen Martin this time pointed to the spot, Gallagher hammering the penalty to Long’s right for his sixth goal of the season.
Less than four minutes later came the winner.
Browne got the ball in midfield and fed a pass to Stockley who moved out into the left channel to find some space to play in.
That gave Browne the time to move into the box and Stockley lifted over a fine cross which Browne hung in the air to head back across the keeper from seven yards.
So things turned out well in the end, half-time frustration turned into three points ahead of two very tricky away games at West Bromwich Albion and Fulham.
The moral was not to judge PNE too early.