Late goal was tough on PNE
Once again the Cottagers scored in added time to break North End’s hearts and take all three points from a big game at Deepdale.
North End were probably value for a point from this game and although the effort from the boys could not be faulted I thought the quality on show when we had the ball was not quite what we have seen recently.
In fact, I thought we gave Fulham too much respect if I am being honest but nobody could deny the boys executed Alex Neil’s pre match plans with their discipline and effort.
Two goals from wide positions were North End’s undoing after Sean Maguire had made it four goals in three games to level things for North End with a header.
It wasn’t to be, though, and while we should reflect on allowing Fulham the chances I don’t think we should beat ourselves up too much as, apart from the three points, our reputation was not soiled very much by the outcome of the game.
Two changes saw Maguire come in for Bodin and Johnson come in for Gallagher as North End started off the game right on the front foot. We had a couple of half chances early on in a first half that was dominated by counter attacking and in that respect Fulham were just a little bit quicker breaking out than North End were and consequently looked the more dangerous breaking from defence.
Darnell Fisher was playing the wonder kid Sessegnon very well and we kept our shape to keep Fulham at bay. Robinson and Maguire had half chances for North End and at the back, man-of-the-match Ben Davies was dominating in the air as North End looked comfortable in the aerial battle.
Cunningham looked slightly uncomfortable with an injury picked up just before the break and was replaced at half-time by Calum Woods.
The visitors were very much in the ascendancy in the early part of the second period and Fulham made North End drop deep for the best part of 20 minutes we were having to defend in our own half with just the occasional break.
Just when it looked like we had seen them off Fulham took the lead after Woods missed a tackle on the left flank and the cross was met by Mitrovic who scored with a solid finish past the despairing dive of Rudd.
The alarm bells were starting to ring for North End but we maintained our composure and just over five minutes later we were level when Maguire`s header sneaked into the far corner and it was game on again. Both teams would have probably settled for a point but it was the visitors who took all three when Fisher was slow to mark his man and the cross saw Mitrovic head past Rudd in the 92nd minute to give Fulham the points and send the North End fans home thinking of what might have been.
North End`s effort was undeniable on the day but Fulham had just a little bit more class and on this occasion that class told.
It’s fine margins between winning and losing in the Championship and although the manager may question his full backs on Monday morning he must have been pleased with the effort and the execution of the game plan even though it proved a fruitless afternoon.
I’m disappointed with the result but not downhearted and we may look back in nine games time and think that Fulham at home was one of the hardest games of the season. Nothing we can do about that game now and with all still to play for we, once again, need to dust ourselves down after a home defeat and sort ourselves out for the trip to Wearside next Saturday where we have a chance to put right the wrong from Deepdale on Saturday.
Even the fictional Marxist revolutionary Wolfie Smith could not have argued against my belief that we suffered a huge injustice in losing to his high-flying Fulham side and that our superb performance on Saturday deserved so much more.
The game produced some fine flowing football from both sides and was a great advert for the quality of Championship football.If there were any lingering doubts amongst fans that we have not assembled a fine young team that can match the league’s best sides then they can be eradicated after this gutsy battling display against the division’s form team.
Man-of-the-match Ben Davies put in another accomplished performance and was supported by some immense displays from all ofhis team-mates particularly Darnell Fisher, Ben Pearson and Callum Robinson.
In my opinion, Fisher was running Davies very close for the award until the games closing stages when he inexplicably switched off at a throw-in to allow the away side some space to craft their heartbreaking last gasp winner. Prior to this he had been outstanding in nullifiying the threat on the left side of Fulham starlet Sessegnon a player who many predict to soon be capped by England.
Whilst it was only a point lost at the death it is always better to pick up a point than nothing and it would have been a very hard earned one too.The late goal came at a time when we were looking the most likely team to win the game following the late introduction of some fresh legs in the form of Bodin and Harrop.
This came after Seaun Maguire had continued his recent rich vein of goalscoring form in cancelling out Fulhams opener.
Similar in looks stature and work ethic to Spaniard Diego Costa and dubbed the” Irish Costa” by a group of his admirers he is fast becoming the new darling of the Deepdale public.
A stoppage time lapse cost North End dear in a match of high intensity and drama that was amplified by it being that time of year where the season moves towards crunch time.
On balance of play the hosts deserved a share of the spoils, but this was to be denied them when Darnell Fisher switched off for a Fulham throw-in that allowed a cross to an unmarked Aleksander Mitrovic to head home his and Fulham’s second goal. This was a cruel blow that felt like a car crash in slow motion, the hosts having harried and worked their socks off against a quality and in-form side that is pushing Cardiff and Aston Villa hard for second spot come May.
Indeed, at one point following the equaliser by Sean Maguire it could have been the men in white shirts who ‘nicked it’; but on this occasion it just wasn’t to be. The match started as it ended, full of running and endeavour mixed in with some nice passing play that was a great advert for Championship football.
Preston’s game plan was clear from the off … don’t give Fulham time to settle and press high whenever you can. This ruffled the visitors feathers who, I suspect, have had some relatively easier matches of late in their surge up the table. It is great credit to Preston that a squad costing a fraction of theirs did so well and did not look out of place.
However, as per the norm this season, the inconsistency in the quality of the final ball is now the next piece in the jigsaw puzzle that needs to be addressed for further progression towards glory.
I have no doubt that Alex Neil is working hard to improve this aspect of play and we, the fans, have to trust him in this.
In my view this is not the time to be down in what is only our third defeat of the last 21 games. There are nine games left and still plenty to play for as we aim to continue our improvement from one season to the next.