Will the real Preston North End please stand up?
A fabulous away day at Queens Park Rangers had ended a run of three defeats to start the season.
Tough to break down and a constant threat on the break, things had seemingly well and truly come together in the 2-0 win at Loftus Road.
Fast forward seven days and another trip south, this time to face Ipswich Town, and it was almost a case of back to square one as a lacklustre North End rarely troubled the hosts as they won for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Mick McCarthy’s men were no world beaters but in this game low on chances and in all honesty, low on quality, they just about did enough to inflict a fourth defeat in five league games on PNE – all of which have come by a single goal margin.
This time Grant Ward’s strike on the quarter hour proved to be the difference.
Kevin Bru’s free-kick was only headed to the edge of area by Jordan Hugill, moments after coming on for the injured Jermaine Beckford, with former Tottenham youngster Ward there to half-volley home past the unsighted and unmoved Anders Lindegaard.
That was just about that. There were openings, Callum Robinson looking the most likely to spark North End into life, while Ward twice saw chances to settle the game late on go begging.
Simon Grayson, who revered back to the side that won so well at QPR with Lindegaard, Bailey Wright, Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson, Beckford and Robinson all returning, never saw his side bombard the Ipswich goal in search of a leveller however, Bartosz Bialkowski having a relatively quiet afternoon between the sticks.
Truth be told, so did Lindegaard at the other end in a game that will not live long in the memory.
McCarthy at least got a battling performance from his side, the veteran boss having made headlines after the derby draw with Norwich with a foul-mouthed rant about criticism from supporters.
There was no issue with any discord between dugout and manager though as the Tractor Boys made the faster start.
Brett Pitman, who led the line expertly after Daryl Murphy’s departure to Newcastle ahead of the game, broke in behind but found Wright in the right place at the right time to prevent Bru having the easiest of chances from a few yards out.
It was an even opening though with North End playing some decent football without much penetration. The first issue of the day came on 13 minutes however, Beckford having recovered from an earlier head clash limped off with what later turned out to be hamstring problem.
His replacement Hugill was straight into the action at the wrong end of the field.
He rose highest to meet Bru’s free-kick with the ball dropping to Ward who stabbed home a shot that seemed to take an age to beat Lindegaard as it went through a crowd.
The Portman Road crowd were now up and their team sensed an opening.
The lead was nearly doubled midway through the half, Pitman found Freddie Sears who jinked past Tom Clarke with only a fine full-stretch save from Lindegaard preventing his shot from 15 yards finding the top corner.
The visitors’ first chance came out of nothing just before the half hour.
Robinson took in Chris Humphrey’s crossfield pass and drove in from the left, beating a couple of challenges before a stinging right-foot shot was helped over the bar by Bialkowski.
Perhaps the former Aston Villa youngster’s best chance came two minutes before the interval though.
Hugill nodded down Daniel Johnson’s deep cross and Robinson was in plenty of space 15 yards out but his shot was tame and easily held.
If anything, half-time came at the wrong time for PNE who had grown into the game as it progressed.
The opportunities certainly didn’t flow for either side after the break with Ipswich at times waiting for the visitors to test them.
The first chance fell the way of the hosts but Lindegaard did well to dive at the feet of Sears and prevent him having a free shot at goal from a Pitman pass.
Grayson made his first significant move 10 minutes into the second half as Eoin Doyle replaced Tommy Spurr, PNE shifting to four at the back, but the Irishman, like so many on the day struggled to make an impression.
Any chances were seemingly coming from nowhere and that was certainly the case on the hour.
Humphrey glided into the area all to easily and cutting onto his left foot things opened up only for a last-ditch block to prevent his shot from 12 yards testing Bialkowski.
The Jamaican was then involved in the next opening with his long throw finding Doyle only for the striker to scuff his effort running across the box 12 minutes from time.
Ward then had a chance to seal the victory on 82 minutes but could only slice horribly wide from the edge of the area after good work from Jonas Knudsen.
The former Rotherham loanee was then denied in on goal by Lindegaard in stoppage time after a comedy of errors in the PNE defence, with players slipping left, right and centre, had allowed him to break in behind.
There was time for one more North End half chance, Liam Grimshaw’s left-shot from just inside the area going a couple of yards wide late on, but Grayson’s men deservedly headed back north empty handed.