North End suppoerters have their say on draw at Middlesbrough
Middlesborough’s most famous footballing son Brian Clough once quoted that if God would have wanted football playing in the clouds he would have put grass up there.If the legendary manager was still alive and had been watching this game, he could not fail to have been impressed by a polished performance from a well drilled Preston side whose neat passing game put their newly-relegated Premier League opponents to shame. If we would have had an end product to our game we might even have finished up taking all three points back home. Clough also said that he was a bit of an idealist and believed in fairies and if Alex Neil’s North End side keeps performing at this high standard there might possibly be a fairytale at the end of the season for the passionate faithful who travelled the 122 miles to the Riverside Stadium to roar on their side.We were so dominant particularly in the second half that at times it felt like we were playing Burton Albion and not one of the hot favourites for promotion.Youngster Josh Earl was outstanding and put in an accomplished performance which belied his young years. Earl has adapted well to the system deployed by Alex Neil and he is also a credit to the hard work done by the academy staff over the years.Any Preston fan should be proud of the performance and if we continue to play at this high standard the rest of the division will have to sit up and take notice. We will soon lose the #teamslikepreston tag.
Another highly accomplished away performance from North End, this time at high spending, big expectation Middlesbrough. North End were great value for the point and on the balance of the stats could probably have taken all three in a game that was low on clear cut chances. A Barkhuizen shot that was tipped onto the post and a Downing effort well saved by Maxwell were probably the two best chances in a game played for the most part in the middle of the field. When you look at the Middlesbrough side, and indeed the bench, it shows just how well this Preston side are evolving to hold them to a draw on their own and augers well for the long autumn and winter months ahead. Even before the game the North End fans taking liquid refreshment were oozing confidence about getting a result and so the play on the field is really getting into the thoughts of the travelling faithful, which is very good to hear. Boss Alex Neil made just one change from the side that beat Reading last week when he brought Alan Browne in for Josh Harrop to give us a little bit more bite in the centre of the field. The team lined up 4-2-3-1 but often during the game you could see North End set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation to cut out the wide threat down the flanks. North End had the early possession but it was the home side who made the travelling fans hold their breath when Assombalonga burst through only to be denied by Maxwell who smothered the ball as it went to safety. Barkhuizen then had his moment when he cut in and fired a shot that was tipped onto the post as the home side struggled a little to keep tabs on Barkhuizen. A couple of half chances went begging for North End later in the half but I think we won the first half on points in a swelteringly hot Riverside Stadium. Although the Smoggies probably edged the possession count in the second half, it was North End who started much the brighter with at least three half chances early in the second period. Johnson, the very hard working Maguire and Barkhuizen were all close to giving North End the lead with the Barkhuizen header cleared off the line by a Boro defender. Alex Neil changed Harrop for the limping Pearson, who had got his usual booking, and Mavididi came on instead of Barkhuisen to add some additional pace down the right hand side. Maxwell’s moment came with 10 minutes to go when he got down brilliantly to save a Downing shot to his left hand side and that was just about it from the home side as the locals drifted away grumbling and moaning about not being able to beat teams like Preston. North End had a late half chance via Harrop but it was a point well won which, on another day and with a little luck, could easily have been three. Alex Neil and the boys can now have a break from match action as the international break means that the next League fixture is on September 9 at Deepdale against Barnsley. When this season’s fixtures came out there were many sharp intakes of breath looking at the first five matches with many predicting a meagre points return from those five games. To take eight points and be seventh in the division is a big achievement with the boys having to adapt to a different style of game as well. Its a decent start but that is all it is and for North End to cash in on their good start we need to make some inroads in September with four of our six games being at home. As for Saturday, well I think everyone will be pleased with the outcome and none more so that the fantastic 961 who made themselves heard loud and proud in a crowd of almost 26,000. So far, so good for North End and lets hope there is more more to come when battle recommences in two weeks’ time.