Dave Seddon's verdict: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Preston North End 0 - The low point of an inconsistent campaign
Preston North End’s inconsistent and soulless behind-closed doors season surely reached its lowest point on Saturday.
Defeat is part of sport, you don’t need to like it but you have to accept it does happen.
The manner of defeat has to be taken into consideration though, and the way PNE were beaten by Wycombe was not acceptable.
For the opening 45 minutes they let Saturday’s hosts run all over them.
North End were second best in everything they did in a wretched first half, dare I say the Chairboys wanted it far more than the visitors.
Slightly better in the second half – they frankly couldn’t do any worse – only in fleeting moments did they look like salvaging something from the Adams Park clash.
Take nothing away from Wycombe I must add at this juncture.
You can’t put their victory down to PNE not turning up for more half the game, although seeing them pushed would have been nice.
They covered the ground, put in the hard yards, closed down, hustled and harried.
In among that was some good approach play at times, don’t think it was all route one and second balls.
Kicking every ball with them from the technical area was Gareth Ainsworth who has carried that endeavour and energy from his playing days into management.
If belief takes you anywhere, Wycombe could well get out of trouble because Ainsworth oozes the stuff.
They might have too much to do to climb away from the relegation zone but on this show, they will at least give themselves a chance.
In contrast North End at times resembled a side who cannot wait for the season to reach its conclusion.
They needn’t bother craning their necks to look up the table, with sixth place Barnsley 17 points away.
Going the other way, PNE are 12 points better off than Rotherham United in 22nd.
There are other teams who are more likely to get dragged into a scrap with Rotherham who have a string of games in hand but a few more points are needed yet before the Lilywhites can consider themselves safe.
Any further repeats of this performance in Buckinghamshire and those points are going to be hard to get.
Wycombe had lost four on the bounce going into North End’s visit so in theory should not have been brimming with confidence.
From kick-off though, they took the game by the scruff of the neck, just as they had done in January’s FA Cup meeting.
While two months ago Ainsworth’s men were 3-0 to the good before the half-hour mark had been reached, this time they had to settle for just the one goal.
Ryan Tafazolli’s header in the 27th minute was enough to settle the contest, in truth they could have led by four goals going into half-time.
Alex Neil responded with three substitutions at the start of the second half and a fourth just beyond the hour.
PNE improved but were only to work Wycombe keeper David Stockdale the once – he saved with his right foot from an Anthony Gordon shot.
So where are things at with Neil and his tenure?
Trevor Hemmings and Peter Ridsdale are the only two people who will know that and know how much patience they have.
Just at the moment it seems support is pretty thin on the ground for Neil among the Preston faithful.
Three wins, three draws and eight defeats from 14 league games in 2021 has seen patience wear thin.
Their record in the Championship since last June’s restart is 15 wins, nine draws and 21 losses.
This season PNE have been so up-and-down, even in the confines of one game.
Look back to the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last week when they were so much better in the second half than in the first. On Saturday it took words at half-time to bring them to life but nothing near to the standard they reached against the Cherries.
In terms of playing against Wycombe, Neil’s men had not learned their lessons.
The FA Cup defeat was only two months ago so there should not have been too many surprises.
Even in this game, there was the opportunity to learn from a couple of early chances which fell to Wycombe but the home side didn’t take.
Twice Tafazolli met Joe Jacobson corners with headers in the first four minutes, one going wide and the other tipped over by Daniel Iversen who has needed to become increasingly busy as his loan spell has gone on.
The third time PNE didn’t get away with it, Tafazolli able to jump unchallenged to meet a Jacobson out-swinger.
Such a high octane start from the hosts was something Ainsworth had planned.
“We properly took the game to Preston which I asked them to do,” said Ainsworth who had three spells as a player at Deepdale.
“I told them they could rely on me, I wanted them to rely on each other and have each other’s backs.
“People will look at the result and say ‘Corner for Wycombe Wanderers that is what they have been doing all the time under me, horrible to play against.
“I hope people will look at some of the play, we played some fabulous stuff and got corners and free-kicks from that good play.”
Neil had been suitable unimpressed with his side’s show by half-time to make a triple change – Ben Whiteman, Daniel Johnson and Scott Sinclair were taken off, Paul Gallagher, Brad Potts and Tom Barkhuizen summoned to replace them.
Gordon replaced Sean Maguire in the 63rd minute, Emil Riis later taking over from Sepp van den Berg in a last throw of the dice which saw a switch to 3-5-2.
Potts hit the side-netting with a shot, while Gordon took a pass from Andrew Hughes down the left side of the box and went low at the near post, Stockdale’s right foot taking it behind.
That was their single shot on target on a day when they were not good enough and got what they deserved – nothing.
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