Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 4 Cheltenham 1 - Lilywhites shine back under the Deepdale lights
Deepdale under the lights has its own special atmosphere and Preston North End’s fans finally got to sample it again after far too long away.
Not since December 2019 had the Lilywhites played a midweek night game in front of supporters.
For that reason it was fitting that PNE’s win over Cheltenham in the Carabao Cup produced plenty of incident to mark the return.
An open contest produced five goals and 31 shots, North End having 22 of them.
The unwanted side of the evening were injuries to Liam Lindsay and Connor Wickham which have the potential to rule them out for some time.
Wickham departing after only seven minutes and Lindsay at the half-hour mark was part of the drama but something we could have done without.
The much more positive notes were the four goals from Frankie McAvoy’s men and some eye-catching displays among their ranks.
Two defenders started the ball rolling on victory, rare goals from Andrew Hughes and Joe Rafferty giving PNE a 2-0 lead at half-time.
After Kyle Vassell pulled one back for the visitors to really make a game of it, strikers Sean Maguire and Emil Riis finished the job with late goals.
If you based things on the events of the first half, a 4-1 scoreline did not flatter the Championship side in the least. Cheltenham were much better in the second half and for a spell were more than a match for their hosts.
PNE found an extra gear to kick into in the closing stages, Maguire and Riis opening up the gap between the sides late on.
It booked them their place in the draw for the last 16, territory rarely explored by Preston down the years. Not since 2016 have they reached this stage of the competition.
McAvoy had gone for more of a light touch in terms of changes for the two previous rounds at Mansfield and Morecambe last month.
On Tuesday night he chose to change seven of those who had started the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
No doubt he was mindful of three big league games ahead against Birmingham, Stoke and Queens Park Rangers, so too the need to give players in the squad a game.
Wickham and Lindsay had been two to come in before their night finished early.
Right wing-back Rafferty was to come completely out of cold storage, with him not registered at the moment in PNE’s squad for league games.
This was a chance for him to press his claim for eventual inclusion in the squad, there being one more place to fill.
Rafferty certainly did his chances no harm, scoring the second goal and getting the assist for Maguire’s strike.
What may go against him in respect of that 25th and final spot in the squad is the need for another central defender.
If Lindsay is going to be out for any length of time, Paul Huntington would be the ready-made replacement.
That is for McAvoy to weigh up in time, for the here and now he can reflect on victory and a seventh game unbeaten in all competitions.
He saw a really strong and assured display from Hughes in this game, with Ali McCann excellent on his full debut.
Maguire was very good too, plunged into action so early when Wickham went off instead of having a night on the bench to rest ahead of Birmingham on Saturday.
PNE took a 25th minute lead, Ben Whiteman’s corner swinging into the middle and met with a strong header by Hughes six yards out.
His last goal came back in February 2019. Rafferty was last on target in August that year, that long run broken in the 37th minute.
Greg Cunningham’s cross was met on the run by Rafferty who side-footed goalwards, the last touch being off Cheltenham’s Mattie Pollock.
Within two minutes of coming on as a sub, Vassell made things interesting with a terrific volleyed finish into the roof of Declan Rudd’s net.
Maguire restored the two-goal cushion, meeting Rafferty’s cross and working himself into a position to shoot across the keeper.
Riis’ finish in added-on time was emphatic, driving a low shot past the keeper after evading a couple of tackles.
The Dane like this competition, that's four goals in it this season with him netting in all three rounds.
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