Heartbreak for North End with a last-minute equaliser from the visitors to give them a share of the spoils that they hardly deserved.
It wasn’t the most exciting festive game I have ever seen but based purely on their second-half performance I thought that North End comfortably deserved the three points. Sheffield, for their part, had plenty of big-name players on display but never really looked like penetrating the home defence, apart from the last 10 seconds of the game when Adam Reach stole a point after North End looked like they were comfortably holding on for all three. Chances were at a premium in the game and when Greg Cunningham’s deflected shot gave us the lead with just 12 minutes to go it looked like the points were ours but it is never over until it’s over and we paid the price for not seeing the game out. North End started the game with McGeady and Gallagher back in the starting line up at the expense of Browne and Vermijl. We certainly looked more effective down the flanks but in all honesty the first half was only played in third gear by both sides. The second half started at a much quicker pace with both sides looking much more at it and seemingly much more encouraged by their respective managers to go on the offensive. When great work by McGeady put Cunningham through on the left, it looked like the match-winning moment as Cunningham’s shot ended up in the back of the net, But it was to no avail as with just five seconds left of the added four minutes, Adam Reach fired a shot home after a scramble in the North End goalmouth. North End had tried to run the clock down in added time but to be honest I just thought we were unlucky on the day and that those things even themselves out over the season. So it is just four points from the three festive games so far as North End head for a big game at Burton on Monday afternoon. A win would see seven points from four games over Christmas and represent a decent return. As for the Sheffield game, well we had two disallowed, hit the post and generally had the better of the game but a pretty universal observation is that we need a goalscorer and, with the strength in other areas of the squad, I think a decent striker could be the difference between mounting a play-off challenge or just comfortably holding our own in mid-table.
We ended the year with a draw which felt like a defeat after a late, injury-time goal scuppered our chances of a morale boosting win against a quality side who are chasing a play-off spot. The performance was very different from our last outing against Leeds and deserved the yield of three points which were so cruelly snatched away in the dying moments. Heading into injury time we had looked comfortable after dominating the second half and never looked like conceding until Wednesday’s desperate late assault on Chris Maxwells goal. We started the game a little nervy but soon settled and with both McGeady and Gallagher in the starting line-up we had that extra bit of creativity going forward which we had lacked in recent games. McGeady linked up well with man of the match Greg Cunningham, who in my opinion has been our most consistent performer of 2016 and probably our best free transfer signing since the millenium. Going into 2017, I feel we have much to look forward too and have made steady progress as a unit in our season and half at this level. We have a nucleus of young players such as Robinson and Johnson who can only improve if we can keep the majority of the current squad together.If we can add some more experienced players into that mix which our budget will allow our future looks much brighter at the moment than the majority of our Lancashire rivals .
A much-improved performance by North End appeared to have done the trick of banishing the blues of the 4-1 defeat to Leeds of only five days earlier. However, Deepdale was again left feeling rather down as Wednesday secured a somewhat undeserved equaliser in the dying seconds of stoppage time. Bodies were thrown on the line as the visitors made one last effort in the form of raining down attack after attack. If only the hosts could have cleared their lines once in that melee, the win would have been secured. It was not to be and the team must now prepare quickly for the first ever visit of a Preston team to Burton Albion on Monday. The game had started without the same intensity as a largely forgettable first half slipped by with neither side showing any dominance. It was not until the second half that the home side showed their mettle…what a pity that the final ball did not have the quality required to unlock the Sheffield door. However, as the game wore on it felt like only one team were going to win it and North End finally made the breakthrough with a well taken effort claimed by Greg Cunningham, though officially an own goal. As the hosts continued to press it was the visitors who got the rub of the green as Aiden McGeady’s beautifully struck shot came back off the post. Cue stoppage time and cue the last-gasp equaliser by a certain Mr Adam Reach, formerly of this parish. It was harsh, but football is a funny old game from which the faithful should take heart on a much better display and team spirit than shown last time around.