For the second successive game we collected another three points without the services of powerhouse striker Jordan Hugill.
A footballer’s career is a very short one and in my opinion it was the right thing to do in accepting a club record fee and not deny the young man the opportunity to become a multi-millionaire by plying his trade in the Premier League. We must now ensure we use this huge fee wisely and strengthen the playing staff and try and reach the Premier League much in the same way as Burnley did when they sold Kyle Lafferty a few seasons ago. In the opening period our attacking options seemed very limited without Hugill and it took us almost half-an-hour to muster a shot on goal. Shortly after, the Tigers belied their lowly league position and roared into the lead much to the shock of their fans whose chants following the goal implied that our side must be very poor if they were winning away. However this seemed to kickstart us into action and we pulled a goal back when Greg Cunningham headed in a corner minutes after. On the stroke of half-time man of the match Alan Browne showed the Hull keeper the eye of the tiger when he confidently despatched a penalty awarded for a foul on the lively Billy Bodin to give us what I thought was an undeserved lead. In the period after the break we had our best spell but couldn’t convert any of the chances we created and spent the last 20 minutes running down the clock to cling on for a vital win. We had been handicapped in the last quarter of the match by an injury to Ben Pearson, who turned in another dynamic performance which unfortunately resulted in another booking. The lynchpin of our midfield will be sorely missed while serving his suspension.
A much needed home win to build on the excellent mid-week away victory kept North End sniffing around the play-off fringes. I have to say though that the opening 20 minutes or so looked like a ‘Hugill hangover’ as the hosts struggled to adapt. I felt sorry for Callum Robinson up at the sharp end, as ball after ball was lofted towards him as if he was, well, either Jordan Hugill’s twin brother or 5 or 6 inches taller. As the game wore on he started to be given a more ground-based supply and, not surprisingly, became much more of threat to the visiting defence. In fact it was a pity that, just as things started to look better, the visitors grasped the initiative with a well taken goal from down the right-hand side of the box, albeit with a deflection of Greg Cunningham. Preston responded within seven minutes from a corner taken by Paul Gallagher that found Cunningham in a good position to take a well-taken headed goal. After that it was the hosts’ turn to really start playing some slick and fast forward play. This culminated in the impressive Billy Bodin, who was making his home debut, winning a penalty as the half drew to a close. Hull clearly felt aggrieved with the decision, but from my good viewpoint the defender made contact on Bodin without winning the ball. You could argue he may have gone down a little easily, but he was clearly caught and a penalty was awarded. Up stepped the equally impressive Alan Browne, who ignored all the gamesmanship and shenanigans of a couple of Hull players to smash the ball into the net from the 12 yard spot. The second half continued from where North End had left off and some lovely football started to be played in a period when both Browne and Robinson had good attempts saved. Having said that, you must give Hull credit for having a real go at getting an equaliser.
A vital home win for North End against relegation threatened Hull City but not a match that will stand out as a thriller when we reflect at the end of the season. All three goals came in the first half and it was North End who had to come behind to claim their three points. The game started at a somewhat sedate pace for a Championship encounter with North End content to see what the visitors could throw at them before opening up a little as the first half wore on. There was just one change from the team that started at Forest on Tuesday evening and that was at left-back with the very unlucky Josh Earl being replaced by Greg Cunningham. North End’s left back saw plenty of action in the first half as the Tigers took the lead when a Bowen shot from the right-hand side took a deflection off Cunningham with the ball beating Rudd. The lead wasn’t to last long because inside 10 minutes North End were level when a Gallagher corner from the right was met by Cunningham who powerfully headed home to level the score. North End were on top in the game at this point and when Campbell brought down Bodin referee Steve Martin had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Browne made no mistake smashing the ball to the right of the goal to give North End the lead at the break. In the second half Hull came out to try and get back in the game as quickly as possible but the North End back line was holding firm. North End had a couple of chances to consolidate their lead when first Browne and then Robinson has shots saved by McGregor in the visitors’ goal and the keeper probably saved Hull from losing by a bigger margin. Barkhuizen interchanged with Robinson on a few occasions and I have to say that he looked at his most dangerous when he was running at the Hull defence down the middle of the pitch. Hull changed it around with three subs but Preston held on comfortably enough for a win that takes North End into seventh place in a congested Championship. A good win for the boys if not the most fluent of performance on a damp February afternoon at Deepdale. A somewhat disappointing crowd I thought with just 11,605 inside Deepdale after the club had got back to winning ways at Nottingham. I think the week off will do the boys some good.