In the end, a much-improved performance compared to the home defeat to Ipswich.
By time Mr Bankes blew the full-time whistle all the talk was of second-half substitute Sean Maguire, who returned to the field of play for the first time since a serious injury in November. He made a real difference, with both his positioning and tenacity, and reminded us all of his ability to get the ball to stick to his feet when turning defenders. To cap that off with two goals was a dream, his first putting North End into a 2-1 lead and earning him a booking, as months of frustration poured out with an over exuberant ‘shirt off’ celebration. His second in injury time sealed the game and ensured the Trotters are not out of mire yet in terms of relegation. All of this followed a rather strange first half that saw the Lilywhites going into the tunnel 1-0 down to a 12th minute goal from Mark Beevers. Before that, the visitors should have had at least one goal themselves, with a beautiful through ball putting Billy Bodin in. Unfortunately, the January signing dallied a little as the ball seemed to get stuck under his feet and the opportunity was lost. The feeling in the stands (of the finely dressed fans in their full Gentry Day attire) was one of frustration as, despite having the lion’s share of possession, North End made a lot of needless errors. The second period saw some improvement and a cracking equaliser from Tom Barkhuizen, who latched onto a lovely weighted ball from Callum Robinson before racing into the box and clipping across the keeper to score. Then came that Maguire substitution and a real feel of purpose up front. His first was a near-post ‘snifter’ of pace and determination. His second more of a tap-in from an assist by another impressive sub, Josh Harrop. So, an opportunity now to keep the play-off flame alight when Bristol City visit on Tuesday. A win is vital in this crowded section of the table.
The annual Laurel and Hardy convention otherwise known as Gentry Day came to Bolton for a second time in recent years and produced a similar result, as the bowler-hatted brigade trooped off back to Preston in high spirits following a fine away win. It was not all plain sailing as, although we were the more dominant side, it was a case of “That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into” when a defensive mix-up gave the home side the lead midway through the first half against the run of play. In the second half we took the game to Bolton and were soon level after the interval when Tom Barkhuizen showed how devastating his blistering pace can be and fired a low shot in to draw us level. In my opinion a fit Barkhuizen, who is now coming back to his best following illness, is a far greater asset to us than the departed Jordan Hugill and his signing and development is a great credit to our scouting system and our coaching team of recent years. It was pleasing to see a return to the side of Irish international Sean Maguire and after he came on as a substitute he turned the game in our favour with two goals as we carved open the home side’s defence like a knife through butter. Maguire is another credit to our scouting system and I feel that he is destined to become a crowd favourite at Deepdale. Most North End fans should be pleased at the way the club is developing following our return to the Championship and the fact we inflicted an easy defeat on the home side illustrates our progress, as five years ago I think the outcome would have been much different. With two massive home games coming up against sides in and around us, the next couple of weeks could have a major say on whether we can reach a play- off spot. My man of the match was Ben Davies, another player we developed ourselves and who never put a foot wrong, looking so composed.
Second-half sub Sean Maguire proved far too hot to trot for the Trotters as North End came from behind to secure a memorable Gentry Day victory at the Macron Stadium. North End had been a goal down at the break, pretty much against the run of play, but the boys produced a barnstorming second-half display and goals for Barkhuizen and Maguire’s double saw North End home to a comfortable victory. North End had easily won the possession count in the first period but just could not make that final pass tell and to be fair to the 3,947 fans in the away end they stuck by the team when we were one down and had their patience rewarded after the break . It was a dream comeback for Maguire after four months out and oh how the boy from Cork celebrated when he put North End into the lead. PNE started the game defending the away end on a bitterly cold afternoon in Horwich as Preston went on the offensive right from the first whistle. Paul Gallagher had replaced Louis Moult as North End reverted to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 with Callum Robinson leading the attach against a pretty sizeable Wanderers defence. Billy Bodin had two chances early on to give North End the lead but right against the run of play the home side gained the advantage just after the 10-minute mark. A corner from the left wasn’t defended properly and as the ball bobbled about, Beevers managed to poke the ball home and give the Trotters the lead. Alex Neil must have rallied his troops during the interval and his inspirational words meant it wasn’t long before North End were back in the game. Callum Robinson played a great ball down the left and Tom Barkhuizen cut in superbly and slotted home past Alnwick with pinpoint accuracy to level matters. Robinson then had a great chance in the inside-right position but crashed his shot over the bar. Just over an hour in and Maguire made his return to action closely followed by Harrop as the game was to change beyond all recognition. With just under a quarter of an hour to go Robinson played a ball in from the left and the predator instinct of Maguire saw him beat a Bolton defender to the ball and prod home to give North End the lead. The only surprise was that it took until the 92nd minute for Maguire to be in the right place at the right time again to send the Gentry into orbit and to ensure the three points were heading North up the M61. A fantastic afternoon for North End and their fans made all the sweeter by the fact that this was a local derby win against a club who had sought to capitalise on the fans’ big day out. It all leads nicely on to a huge week at Deepdale with games against Bristol City on Tuesday evening and against Fulham on Saturday. The season is far from over as we speak and after this Gentry Day victory the boys deserve the support at home over the next seven days that they received on the retail park at Middlebrook on Saturday.