Five talking points from Preston's North End FA Cup defeat against Norwich City
Preston North End’s involvement in the FA Cup is over for another year after they were beaten by Norwich City at Deepdale.
They trailed 3-0 by the interval before losing 4-2, Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop on target for the Lilywhites.
Here are five of the talking points from the defeat to the Canaries.
1. As Alex Neil did for the League Cup earlier in the campaign, he rang the changes for this one with Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher the two survivors from New Year’s Day.
Having played three games in six days, you could see why he wanted to rotate and it wasn’t as if Neil threw a bunch of kids in.
The majority of the side fielded on Saturday we had seen fairly often during the season, Connor Ripley and Tom Bayliss the exceptions.
Ripley and Bayliss had only featured in the League Cup until now and Ripley ended-up being a headline act for the wrong reasons with mistakes for two of the Norwich goals.
Whether it was rustiness on Ripley’s part, he didn’t do anything to convince that he can push Declan Rudd.
As is often the case when mass changes are made, you do see a somewhat disjointed performance.
Of those who came into the starting XI, Jayden Stockley and Joe Rafferty pushed their chances more than anyone for a game at Blackburn next week.
Ryan Ledson was decent but won’t unseat Ben Pearson in the holding midfield role, while Billy Bodin came to life in the second half.
That willingness to come off the line and get into shooting positions is something we need to see from Bodin on a consistent basis.
2. For the first time in his Deepdale reign, Alex Neil didn’t use any of his substitutes.
Neil had loaded the bench with six first-team regulars - Ben Pearson, Paul Gallagher, Tom Barkhuizen, David Nugent, Tom Clarke and Declan Rudd - together with youngster Adam O’Reilly.
It would have been nice for teenager O’Reilly to have a few minutes on the pitch but he stayed sat down as Neil pushed all the starters through 90 minutes.
A former team-mate of O’Reilly’s in his school days back home in Cork was Norwich’s hat-trick hero Adam Idah.
The teenagers also played international youth football together for the Republic of Ireland.
3. This was a third defeat on the spin for North End and a seventh in the last 11 games.
An exit from the FA Cup comes on top on a slide in form which has taken Neil’s men down to 10th, albeit only two points outside the play-off places.
Just recently the Deepdale 'fortress' has crumbled, with Reading, Middlesbrough and now Norwich winning here in the space of a week.
If there was a positive to take in defeat it was that at least PNE scored for the first time since Boxing Day.
Bodin headed in from close range, smartly diverting a towering header from Stockley. Later, Harrop finished well from Bodin’s pass after good play from Ledson.
Preston return to action in the local derby against Blackburn at Ewood Park next Saturday, a game which carries ‘must-win’ status in terms of league form and bragging rights.
4. The Lilywhites’ record in the FA Cup in recent years hasn’t been great.
They have gone out at the third round stage in four of the last five seasons to Norwich, Doncaster, Arsenal and Peterborough.
In 2017, Neil’s men bowed out at the fourth round stage, beating Wycombe before losing to Sheffield United.
Their best run in the last few campaigns was to the fifth round in 2015 when Manchester United beat them 3-1 at Deepdale.
5. Illness laid a few of the North End players low during the week and kept them sidelined for this game.
Patrick Bauer missed two of the Christmas games and then only lasted until half-time against Middlesbrough because of a bout of flu. He sat this one out.
Also missing from the squad were Paul Huntington and Josh Ginnelly who both had a bug, while Tom Clarke was on the bench having missed training at the end of the week.
With Bauer and Huntington missing, Andrew Hughes not risked and Clarke only just making it, second-year scholar Tyler Williams was on stand-by for this one.
The centre-half was 19th man, getting the chance to warm-up with the squad before the game.