As a one off result given the circumsatnces of the injuries at Deepdale I thought there were some positives from the game, not least of which was the clean sheet secured with a makeshift back four.
However looking at the bigger picture with only three points now collected from the last seven games I am have some sympathy with the North End fans who said that this was two points lost against a side second-bottom of a very competitive Championship. It is also the third consecutive game that North End have failed to score in and although I thought Stephy Mavididi did well against two big centre-backs, it is clear that North End were desperately missing Huill and Maguire to add some goal threat to the attack. North End started the game quite well and came out with plenty of energy. In fact the opening 20 minutes of the game was our best period will Gallagher conducting the orchestra and generally being North End’s most effective player. Gallagher had a chance himself early on from a short corner and then put another corner across for Andy Boyle to head just wide. A Barkhuizen header the went just wide of the post as North End looked well on top but just couldn’t find the net. Bolton offered very little at the other end. The second half was a more dogged midfield affair with North End not showing the energy that they had shown in the first period and Bolton getting on the ball a lot more and beginning to create one or two chances of their own. To be fair to North End I thought we generally defended well on the evening but almost gave away the game with a mis-placed back pass by O’Connor which man of the match Ben Pearson, did well to cover and extinguish the threat. Apart from the foodlights coming back on before the game, which caused a five minute delay to kick off, I think the biggest cheer of the evening was when Tom Clarke’s name was announced as one of the subs with the captain having been out seven months. No doubt having him back and having Hugill available again for Tuesday at Bristol City will be a big boost to North End but we have got to start winning games soon. The January window will be vital but we are in danger of giving ourselves too much to do unless the boys and the manager can turn it around soon.
The televised derby game with Bolton on Friday was like eating a Lancashire hotpot which had not been brought to simmer properly and was missing the seasoning of salt, pepper and Worcester sauce. We began playing quite well but failed to convert our early pressure into goals and then allowed Bolton to gain a foothold in the game before the interval. Bolton, who had not won away at Championship level for 33 games, were the better side in the second half as our injury-ravaged squad began to tire slightly. But we did look better following the introduction of Daniel Johnson whose fresh legs gave our attacking options a lift as the game swung from end to end without creating too many clear-cut chances. As the game wore on the chances of a goal bonanza were slim. With one goal looking likely to win the match, both sides huffed and puffed but the one moment of magic was not forthcoming and we had to settle for a goalless stalemate. Ben Pearson was deservedly awarded the man of the match as he battled hard in midfield ,constantly snapping like a rabid dog at our opposing players heels in order to retrieve possession. We have now not won for seven games and our glorious start to the season appears to have evaporated. The Championship is an unforgiving league and you can soon go on a winless run, such is its composition. In season 2000-01 we had a spell in which we lost five games in a row and seven out of eight but still managed to reach the play-offs. However I feel if this is to happen this season we would need an injection of new blood, particularly up front as we desperately missed the suspended Jordan Hugill and injured Sean Maguire with their replacements being far too lightweight for my liking.
North End came into this game off the back of a four-match losing streak set against the backdrop of suspensions and an unusually long injury list. Halting the downward slide was a key priority. Add in Bolton’s wining form of late and I can tell you I approached Deepdale with some trepidation. In the end both sides would probably have settled for a point beforehand in a game of little quality. Of the two, Preston started the better and really should have taken more advantage of the opportunities created by the quality of Paul Gallagher. A header from one of his free-kicks and a glance across goal from one of his corners deserved better. In the main, the hosts were most affected by the forced changes up front. Just how key the missing Jordan Hugill and Sean Maguire are to the forward link-up and play was evident for all to see. At least Hugill should be back for the midweek match at Bristol City following his one match suspension. Young Stephy Mavididi gave it a real go in the opening phase, as did Tom Barkhuizen, but both faded as the match wore on. A start for Callum Robinson was an opportunity for him to impress and he will no doubt be disappointed in not having more impact. After the break it was Bolton who started to be more threatening, resulting in an injury-time push in which they went close to nicking a win themselves. In addition to the return of Hugill next time, there was the unexpected and very welcome sight of Tom Clarke on the bench here. That can only boost the squad’s morale, along with the continued tenacity of Ben Pearson and Alan Browne in the engine room. Also, despite the frustration felt by all, there was no lack of endeavour and energy shown by any player in a white shirt. No doubt Alex Neil will be hoping for a bit of luck between now and the transfer window opening, along with the return of some long-term absentees.