Sean Maguire made a sensational return to action as Preston were Gentry Day winners at Bolton.
We take a look at the main talking points after the Irishman’s double off the bench got Alex Neil’s side back to winning ways in the Championship.
Sean Maguire is back
Not Sean Maguire, not Alex Neil, not even the most optimistic North End fan could have written this return any better. A surprise name amongst the subs after four months out, his arrival in the 65th minute turned a game that was sitting at 1-1 into a resounding 3-1 victory that could have been more. His first goal in the 77th minute was a classic one from a poacher and then the second completed a fine team move in stoppage time. Neil insisted post-match there cannot be too much of a rush with a player who has been out for so long but now it will be hard not to chuck him in from the start against Bristol City on Tuesday night. Heart or head? It’s a difficult one, especially when it concerns a player who will be key to PNE’s chances of making the play-offs.
North End can cut teams open
So often this season we’ve talked about the Lilywhites coming up short with the final pass or cross. But this was a day where things came together in the final third and at times Preston really cut through Bolton. All that was lacking in the first half was a goal with both Tom Barkhuizen and Billy Bodin going close. The equaliser came shortly after the interval after a perfect through ball from Callum Robinson for Barkhuizen before Maguire turned it on off the bench. Robinson again laid on the second before both Barkhuizen and Josh Harrop were involved in a slick move for the third. The only disappointment was some very good chances came and went but this at times had echoes of the Wycombe FA Cup win.
Neil has faith in his players
After hooking both Calum Woods and Callum Robinson in the first half of the defeat to Ipswich Alex Neil would have been forgiven for shaking things up at the Macron Stadium. But he largely kept faith with the players who have served him well in recent weeks with Paul Gallagher’s return in place of Louis Moult the only change from the poor performance last time out. Robinson has plenty of critics but did well both up top and out wide and came away with two assists. Woods was perhaps the more likely to miss out but he looked more assured at right back and seemed to be on the pace from the off, unlike against Ipswich. He is likely to drop out against Bristol City however with Darnell Fisher back from his ban.
There’s strength in depth for the run in
All of a sudden, Alex Neil has plenty of options. The returns of Maguire, Gallagher and Daniel Johnson meant there was no place in the 18 at Bolton for either Daryl Horgan or John Welsh. Louis Moult was also an unused sub having started the last two games. Fisher returns from his suspension at Bristol City and Neil hinted post-match that Tom Clarke is also closing in on a comeback. That could mean that finally, the PNE boss has everyone available to him and just at the right time. Competition for places is hotting up, Declan Rudd recently replacing Chris Maxwell a prime example of that, and that can only help the Lilywhites’ push for the top six.
The Gentry are the best
Alright, we already knew this of course but this was a Gentry Day to remember. Just shy of 4,000 braved the cold weather to mark PNE’s annual act of remembrance and boy were they rewarded. It was the least they deserved really, even Marc Beevers opening the scoring against the run of play in the first period couldn’t dent their spirits. The second half, with Alex Neil’s side shooting towards their fans, will probably not be topped this season. Barkhuizen levelled things up before it became the Maguire show on his return to action. It was a day to savour with just a third win in 12 Gentry Days to top it all off. Now, as Neil alluded to post-match, can that kind of atmosphere be generated at Deepdale for a big week on home soil?