Josh Earl was sent off as Preston North End drew 1-1 with Swansea City at Deepdale on Saturday.
Daniel Johnson scored from the penalty spot for the Lilywhites on the hour, five minutes after Courtney Baker-Richardson had put the visitors in front.
Forwards returning doesn’t mean Alex Neil’s problems are over
Alex Neil’s squad had a far healthier look and for the first time since before Christmas he had options off the bench. But despite his forward players returning, the PNE boss’ problems weren’t over on Saturday. Paul Huntington came off at half-time with a tight groin and then Tom Clarke was removed midway through the second half with a calf issue. Two new full backs came on in Josh Earl and Darnell Fisher with Andrew Hughes forced into action at centre back. Things went from bad to worse when Earl was harshly sent off 10 minutes from time. Just when Neil thinks it might be starting to go his way again, he might have to patch together a defence for the trip to QPR.
Stockley gives PNE a different option
Jayden Stockley was one of two new signings to start, tasked with giving PNE a physical presence in the final third as Lukas Nmecha dropped to the bench. What attributes the new No.20 brings were obvious from his first touch, a firm chest and lay off setting North End away on their first attack of the game. He won more than his fair share of free-kicks too with a clear effort being made to play to his strengths with crosses coming into the box. Stockley’s big moment was to come in the second half. After a neat flick had caught the eye moments earlier it was his cross on the slide that hit Connor Roberts on the arm with Daniel Johnson doing the rest from the spot. A really positive debut.
Potts another all-action player
Brad Potts was also handed a debut after his seven-figure move to Deepdale. The former Barnsley man played from the right and was certainly busy. An early burst to win a free-kick showed what he could do with dangerous crosses then nearly finding fellow new boy Stockley and then Tom Barkhuizen. His brightest moment of the opening period was a shot from 30 yards that nearly got the better of Erwin Mulder, the Swansea ‘keeper just about saving it with his legs before scrambling to pick up the rebound. Potts nearly had an assist to his name in the second half as things opened up, playing a through ball for Sean Maguire that the Irishman couldn’t make the most of moments after coming on the pitch. Clearly plenty to work with and a player who will only get better.
Rudd has a fight on to keep the gloves
There was plenty of debate pre-match about who would get the nod in goal. As it was Declan Rudd returned after Michael Crowe’s appearance in the FA Cup, new signing Connor Ripley having to settle for a place on the bench. The pressure was on Rudd, knowing that having seen off Chris Maxwell, Ripley is now waiting in the wings. In what was a largely low key first half the PNE No.1 did what was expected of him before late in the period pulling off a fine full stretch save to keep out Bersant Celina’s shot that took a deflection off Paul Huntington. The second 45 minutes was less straightforward, Rudd clattering a post after being fouled before spilling one cross in the free-kick that followed Earl’s red card. Solid enough though as his second battle for the gloves begins.
Squad pecking order will soon become clear
With nine more players available to Alex Neil than in the last league game at Rotherham on New Year’s Day, this was always going to be a day where we found out a fair bit about the pecking order of the PNE squad. As it was Josh Ginnelly, Graham Burke, Brandon Barker and Calum Woods dropped out of the match-day 18 as six changes were made to the starting XI that exited the FA Cup. Of the new signings Ginnelly is seen as the one who is more of a work in progress. As for Burke and Woods, their demotion on Saturday will be a sign that they’ve got work to do. Woods has hardly kicked a ball in anger this season but Burke will be disappointed to be have been in the stands having been a starter when the squad was stretched over Christmas and New Year. With Ben Davies and Louis Moult also to come back the fight for places is really on.