Runaway leaders Wolves arrived at Deepdale as the only side in the division to have lost fewer matches than ourselves this season.
This made this game our litmus test in terms of seeing if our squad contains the right credentials to take its place in a higher office next term. We began the game tentatively and denied the league’s top goalscorers any real clear-cut chances. Our controlled play also managed to distract the large away contingent who seemed content to spend the majority of the first half tossing around a larger than life-size inflatable. It was a lively encounter but watching the antics of some of the away side’s players after some less-than-robust challenges reminded me of watching my cat roll around the front-room floor waiting for her tummy to be tickled. However far from being playtime, their actions resulted in three bookings one of which would change the dynamics of the game in the second half. The blue touch-paper was well and truly lit in a pulsating opening quarter of the second period one in which we upped the tempo of our game with more aggression The well-deserved man of the match Alan Browne who had another immense performance hit the post before he gave us the lead during our best spell of pressure in the game. We looked like we were on the verge of a memorable win until John Welsh was sent off for a second bookable offence, both of which could be deemed soft but not helped by the rolling around on the floor of the impeded player. Although our defence was breached two minutes later, we proved in the remainder of the game that our house was not built with straw and sticks and the Big Bad Wolves were unable to blow it down as our two organised banks of four defended doggedly for a hard earned point.
A draw for North End that actually felt more like a win perticularly with having to play the last half-an-hour with ten men following the sending off of John Welsh for a second yellow card. A headed goal from man of the match Alan Browne had given North End the lead early in the second half but Wolves eqaulised, through Costa, just a few minutes after Welsh had departed. Wolves had the majority of the ball and the play but North End looked solid in defence and although Rudd made a couple of good saves late on I thought we were really good value for the point against a team that looked nailed on to be in the Premier League next season. The crowd played their part as well particularly after we had taken the lead and even more so when it was a backs to the wall job in the latter part of the game. Wolves started the game at a decent pace but I thought North End worked exceptionally hard early on in the game and made sure the visitors didn’t get away from us with any early goals. North End came out with intent after the break and in the first few minutes of the second half Browne hit the post with a shot after a great run into the box through the Wolves defence. It was no surprise, then, when North End took the lead after only seven minutes of the second half when a corner from the left found Browne at the back post and he leapt superbly to give PNE the lead with a powerful header. Our joy was only to be short lived after Welsh had been dismissed when a silly foul brought him his second yellow card. North End went 4-4-1 but couldn’t stop a flowing Wolves move allowing Costa to fire past Rudd after a lucky bounce saw the ball land at his feet. We were up against in from this point on but held out exceptionally well with Rudd saving a great one on one from Afobe late on in the game. I am sure all at Deepdale will reflect on this match and see it as a point won against a very good Wolves side but having said that who knows what would have happened if North End had kept 11 men on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. All the team worked tirelessly but Browne, in particular, had one of the best games I have seen him play in a North End shirt followed not far behind by Ben Davies and Josh Earl.
A satisfying point against champions-elect Wolves. However, it must be said that it could have been more if it was not for the sending off of John Welsh in the first phase of the second half. In this period, North End had deservedly taken the lead through a well headed goal from man of the match Alan Browne and were looking likely to add a second. Why a player as experienced as Welsh, already on quite a soft yellow from a foul in the first half, made an unnecessary shirt pull around the halfway line is anybody’s guess. He must be disappointed in himself for allowing the ‘rolling around in agony’ shenanigans of the visiting players to suck him into such needless trouble. The incident changed the game with Wolves then dominating the remainder of the match that included equalising within three minutes of the red card. Even then the goal had an air of good fortune about it, with a couple of lucky knock-ons putting the ball into the path of Helder ‘Costa Packet’ for a close-range finish that players costing less than £13m would also be expected to put away. All this following a very even first half in which Preston gave as good as they got to leave their opponents with no doubt that this team was not going to be another rollover. This was helped by the feeling and reaction in the home crowd to what we felt was a certain arrogance surrounding both visiting players and supporters…boy oh boy, we wanted to punch a hole in their victory balloon for at least a week using our hardworking, honest team that has cost a fraction of the dosh. This spirit was never more evident than in the period after the equaliser, when a determined North End held off wave after wave of attacks to close out the game. A performance and result that must give heart to the squad ahead of the trip to another old Midlands foe and founding member in the shape of Aston Villa.