Fulham 2, PNE 2: Dave Seddon’s big match verdict

Preston North End's Jordan Hugill battles for possession with Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon
Preston North End's Jordan Hugill battles for possession with Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon
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Eight words from Alex Neil post-match at Craven Cottage were to underline the change in direction of expectation at Preston these last few months.

Had you seen the scoreline blind, without knowing the tale of proceedings, a point on Fulham turf might have been regarded as a decent result.

Preston North End's  Sean Maguire, left, celebrates scoring his side's second goal withTom Barkhuizen and Alan Browne

Preston North End's Sean Maguire, left, celebrates scoring his side's second goal withTom Barkhuizen and Alan Browne

Even with the knowledge of PNE blowing a two-goal lead and conceding in the 96th minute, it might have been easy to trot out the line about it being a result which would have been taken beforehand.

As the campaign goes on, I’m sure the Cottagers will win more than they lose on the banks of the River Thames.

But North End boss Neil saw this as an opportunity missed in his drive to take the club further forward.

It is becoming clear that reputations and budgets count for little with Neil.

Fulham's Oliver Norwood sends Preston North End's Chris Maxwell the wrong way to bring Fulham back into the game at 2-1

Fulham's Oliver Norwood sends Preston North End's Chris Maxwell the wrong way to bring Fulham back into the game at 2-1

The Scotsman has belief in Preston’s ability to challenge in the higher reaches of the Championship and not just be thankful for being there.

Even if the opposition have spent a fortune, Neil sees no reason why his players should not go toe-to-toe with them.

So when during the press conference the question was put to him about whether this had ‘still been a great point’, his answer was forthright.

“It is not, I wouldn’t agree with that,” said Neil with a shake of the head.

It might be that in the long run a point ends-up being a helpful one but after the final whistle it did not feel that way.

The way the game finished was utterly frustrating, both in the fact PNE could not hang on and because it brought into play referee Darren England’s time-keeping.

Five minutes had gone up on the fourth official’s board and the clock had ticked 30 seconds or more beyond that when Fulham equalised.

Added-time is of course the minimum amount to be played, Neil refusing to go down that excuse route but at the same time asking out loud where those crucial extra few seconds came from.

It was an error from keeper Chris Maxwell which handed Fulham their equaliser.

Maxwell made the call to come out and claim a long punt into the box, having dealt comfortably with crosses all afternoon.

This one he dropped at the feet of Denis Odoi who poked a shot with some accuracy into the far corner.

Fulham will say it was their reward for laying siege to the Preston box for much of the second half – either side of a spell of visitors’ pressure in which the contest could and should have been put to bed with a third goal.

However, those of a PNE persuasion can argue that their side deserved better than late heartache for the first-half performance which was as good as any produced this season.

Tactically in that opening 45 minutes, Neil’s men got it spot-on.

Their pressing was better than a Corby trouser press, it knocking Fulham right out of their stride.

When the home side had a goal kick, their centre-backs split to go either side of the box to receive it short from the keeper and build from there.

The North End front line man-marked them, forcing keeper David Button to kick long.

The number of times Preston nicked the ball off a Fulham foot as they pressed, hustled and harried, was impressive.

They took a 2-0 lead that way, Jordan Hugill and Sean Maguire finding the net.

In between, Alan Browne had a one-on-one as a result of picking Fulham’s pocket.

Even when the hosts bossed the play in the second half, Josh Harrop twice had one-on-ones.

The 2-0 lead lasted to the 74th minute when Oliver Norwood netted from the penalty spot to halve the deficit.

Odoi then completed the comeback to leave PNE to reflect on what should have been.

Despite being pegged back late on, there were positives to draw from the London trip, in that this was a ninth match unbeaten – a run of four wins and five draws.

Going forward in the first half, the front line looked sharp and dangerous – a mix of pace and power combining to good effect.

Ben Pearson returned from a six-game absence to bolster midfield.

With this his first slice of action since August 26, it was a run limited to just short of an hour.

Had Pearson been on for the full 90 plus minutes, the outcome may well have been a winning one.

The same argument could be applied to the loss half an hour in, of Maguire because of a hamstring strain.

In his limited time on the pitch, the Irishman was still able to claim a goal – slightly fortuitously – and an assist.

Roared on by a 1,736 away following who had come by train, car and ferry, Preston were two goals to the good by the 25th minute.

Shortly before the opener, it had needed a fine save from Maxwell to deny Norwood in front of goal – that one-handed stop should not be forgotten amid what happened late on.

The lead came in the 19th minute, Pearson winning the ball just over the half-way line and playing Maguire clear down the left channel.

Maguire scampered into the box and pulled the ball back for HUGILL who steered home a shot from seven yards.

Browne got clear and put his shot too close to Button who blocked at the expense of a corner.

North End’s second came when Browne hooked a pass down the right, Barkhuizen latching on to it.

He cut into the box and hit a shot which clipped off the heel of MAGUIRE and flew beyond Button at the near post.

A first win in this corner of the capital for 17 years loomed on the horizon, only for that to be snatched away.

When Rui Fonte went down as he squeezed his way between Calum Woods and Paul Huntington, the slight contact coming from Woods, Mr England gave a penalty.

NORWOOD sent Maxwell the wrong way from the spot, that the start of a comeback which was completed as time ticked into the sixth minute of stoppage-time.

When Maxwell dropped Tim Ream’s cross, ODOI was in the right place to shoot home.