Our performance was like watching Harold Steptoe’s dog Hercules The Second.
Odds-on favourites against strugglers Birmingham and expected by many fans to win by a distance, we were as slow out of the traps as the short-sighted greyhound who failed to notice that the hare was already running. The visitors are the lowest scorers in the division but should have been at least two goals up before Ben Davies fired us ahead with our only serious first-half threat on the visitors goal. I thought it was our worst home display under the tenure of Alex Neil and in general we lacked the strength to see off Birmingham, who made us look like a very ordinary Championship side for the majority of the game and deserved to take all three points and not just the one. We badly missed Ben Pearson whose bite and tenacity could possibly have altered the course of the game as we lost the battle in the middle of the park. We were in front for a large chunk of game even though we had played poorly but contributed to our own downfall by conceding a comic goal straight from the ‘Carry On Football’ manual. In a week where the talk in the media has been of Prince William losing his hair and having a new short cut, I was tearing out what little I have left for the remainder of the match following the equalising goal and our failure to mount another attack on goal. until the last minute when substitute Louis Mault – who had an industrious debut – shot just wide. The home crowd was so subdued that the Blues fans thought they were in a library– reading a book could have been more entertaining. We’d have all been better off getting our Saturday football fix by watching the youth team beat Blackpool 5-2 in the morning and giving this one a miss.
Let’s not beat about the bush, this was the worst North End performance in a long time at Deepdale and in the end I thought we were lucky to escape with a draw. I thought Birmingham started the game better, looked more up for it than we did and completely out-muscled us in the middle of the park where I can hardly remember North End being so lightweight. Having said all that it took some kamikaze defending by Alex Neil’s men to give the visitors the equaliser because for all their pressure and possession the Blues never really looked liked getting a bagful of goals. Yes, of course, we missed Ben Pearson but there were many more reasons why North End limped to a draw against a side in the relegation zone and plenty for the manager to work on before the cup tie at Bramall Lane next Saturday. Slightly against the run of play North End took the lead just after the quarter-hour when Gally whipped a ball in only for Dean to, inexplicably, head the ball back across his own goal with Ben Davies waiting at the back post to score his first goal for North End with a virtual tap-in. North End gradually improved and looked dangerous with the ball into the box from set-pieces but in all honesty it wasn’t a brilliant half from our perspective and the consensus at half time was the fact that we were winning was about the best you could say. Unfortuantely, Davies was replaced at half-time with an injury but it was great to see Josh Earl replace him after three months out. I thought young Earl did well when he came on considering how long he had been out and I have high hopes for this lad in the future. Just after the hour mark the visitors were level when North End contrived to play the ball backwards and Paul Huntington, of all people, got caught in possession as Maghome nipped in and squared the ball to Gallagher who scored into an empty net with Maxwell having come to clear and not quite got there. It was a shocker to concede and Birminham pressed for a while afterwards until North End asserted themselves towards the end of the game. Moult came on for Hugill and I thought he also did well on his North End debut, looking sharp and having a good deal of physical presence about him. Both teams gave it a go late on but anything other than a draw would have been a travesty as North End’s mediocre home form this season continued. It is only one game and there is certainly no need to throw the toys out of the pram just yet. I thought we had too many players, particularly senior players, who had off-days and this seemed to filter through to the younger lads, who got nervous on the ball. The lack of a physical presence in the middle and up front would certainly be a cause for concern for the manager, though, and I thought we could have done something more with our tactics and shape later in the game as we were very predictable in our play as the game wore on. It was poor but it wasn’t a disaster as we are still only four points behind the play-offs just over halfway through January. A breather from the league with the FA Cup next Saturday and a full week for the manager and his staff to shake off a bad day at the office and get things back on track for the trip to Sheffield United.
A poor performance this by an off-colour North End on a cold Saturday afternoon inside Deepdale. Even so, an undeserved 1-0 lead was looking like it was going to be enough to secure all three points and keep the hosts in the running for that all elusive play-off place. Instead, a calamitous few seconds allowed Birmingham to equalise and give them the least they deserved in their own battle at the other end of the table. All the warning signs were there in the opening few minutes as the visitors spurned two good chances to take the lead before Preston opened the scoring on 17 minutes. Having won a free-kick mid-way between the halfway line and City’s box, Paul Gallagher stepped up with everyone expecting his usual bending ball directly into the danger area. Instead he tapped it to one side, received the ball back and then swung in a dangerous looking cross. This clearly caught the visitors out, with one of their own players heading the ball back across the six-yard area for a simple tap-in at the back post by Ben Davies. The second half started with the substitution of Ben Davies by the returning Josh Earl, presumably due to injury, but other than this the match continued to be as poor as the first period, the only positive appearing to be that at least the home side were containing Birmingham better and could probably sneak three points. This was all undone in the 63rd minute. With Greg Cunningham in possession close to the halfway line, Chris Maxwell demanded the ball. He showed poor judgement in giving the ball to Paul Huntingdon stuck in no-man’s land just beyond the penalty area. Huntingdon losing the ball led to a two-on-one, a simple pass around the panicking Maxwell and a tap into the unguarded net. Mutterings in the crowd around me suggesting that maybe it was time to give Declan Rudd a go.