Dave Seddon's verdict: Stoke City 0 Preston North End 0 - Solid but unspectacular point for PNE in the Potteries
Could Preston North End do it on a sunny Spring afternoon at Stoke? Yes and no is the answer to that.
Defensively they did a job on the Potters although there were a few shaky moments during the afternoon.
Going the other way, for half the game PNE’s attack was blunt before finding more of an edge in the second 45 minutes.
They nearly won it at the end, Harry Souttar’s 87th minute trip on Alan Browne might have earned the Stoke defender a red card but it saved his side from defeat.
Souttar tripped the North End skipper a yard outside the box with him through on goal.
Browne hit the resulting free-kick into the wall and was to shoot wide a few moments later as the ball was recycled and another attack launched.
It won’t be a game which lives long in the memory, this only their second 0-0 draw of the season and only the second time the Lilywhites had shared the spoils in an away game in 2020/21.
What it did was nudge them on to 49 points and within touching distance of safety, although you could argue they are already there.
More immediately, the clean sheet was a good response to conceding five to Brentford the week before.
It’s five points from four games in charge for Frankie McAvoy, solid if somewhat unspectacular.
After one point from five games at the end of Alex Neil’s stewardship, it’s progress.
McAvoy is in contention for the job full-time and is in pole position by reason of being able to audition from his interim role rather than from work done elsewhere.
The sigh of Robbie Fowler watching from an executive box at the bet365 Stadium caused ripples of speculation that the former Liverpool man could be in for it.
He has his links with Peter Ridsdale from Leeds and Cardiff but wasn’t in the Potteries at the invite of PNE.
Whatever Fowler was there for – back in England at the end of the Indian Super League where he is manager of East Bengal – he wasn’t entertained a great deal.
Stoke were the better side in the first half, North End in the second half.
Both teams had a goal disallowed, Andrew Hughes hit a free-kick against the post, while there was Souttar’s red card.
That was about it in terms of the excitement factor, the game having very much an end of season feel about it.
Preston’s previous three against Norwich, Swansea and Brentford had plenty riding on them due to their opponents’ promotion pushes.
With Stoke in mid-table and PNE having a decent amount of daylight between themselves and the bottom three, it wasn’t exactly highly charged.
All games behind closed doors are quiet, save for shouts on the pitch and from the benches.
This one seemed quieter than normal, save for Ched Evans raising his voice a few times at the standard of service up to him and to debate a couple of refereeing decisions.
Stoke on a wet and windy Tuesday night was always used as the benchmark for how teams could cope in the Premier League – were they up for the fight or not.
There was nothing harsh about the conditions for PNE’s dinnertime visit.
The sun shone, no sign of the wind that tends to whip into the stadium through the open corners.
The pitch was as good as I have seen these last few months.
McAvoy tweaked the side from the Brentford loss, limiting himself to two changes.
One was to bring Browne into the side in place of Brad Potts, the other being the return of Greg Cunningham.
He came into the starting XI in place of Liam Lindsay who wasn’t allowed to face his parent club.
Lindsay made the trip and watched it with Louis Moult who had to vacate his place on the bench to accommodate the more game-ready Sean Maguire who was back from a calf injury.
A rejig of the backline saw Tom Barkhuizen moved to the right wing-back position and Cunningham play on the left.
Sepp van den Berg moved into the centre of defence next to Jordan Storey and Andrew Hughes.
The teenager and Hughes looked comfortable in their roles, not Storey.
Whether it was having to play as the middle man in the three or not, he struggled at times – his distribution more than once causing issues.
By hook or by crook though, they held firm sufficiently to record a clean sheet.
In the first half that was down to good goalkeeping again from Daniel Iversen.
How many times has that been the case in this second half of the season?
Iversen saved well from Josh Tymon, spreading himself after the defender was played down the left hand side of the box.
When a low cross struck Ben Whiteman rushing back to cover, the Dane got down to his right to glove the ball behind.
PNE’s attacking intent in the first half was limited, Evans and Emil Riis chasing lost causes in the main.
That improved after some stern words from McAvoy over the half-time tea.
The midfield got closer to the strikers to give them some much-needed support, the wing-backs pushed higher.
Evans should have done better than head over the bar from Barkhuizen’s cross on the hour mark.
Ryan Ledson’s free-kick in the 68th minute travelled no more than five yards before being blocked by Sam Clucas with his hand a yard outside the box. Hughes took the second free-kick, steering it low past the wall and against the base of the far post.
Souttar tripped Browne a matter of inches outside the box with three minutes of the regulation 90 left, Browne running on to a nice ball from substitute Maguire.
Red was the colour for the centre-half, Stoke surviving further punishment when Browne’s free-kick hit the man on the end of the wall.
A point was better than nothing, that bit closer to safety and closer to the end of a difficult season.