The pubs and clubs of Preston on Friday night were made a little more merrier than normal following our single-goal victory in the derby clash with Wigan earlier in the evening.
It was the first time we had beaten our opponents at Deepdale in a league fixture since an Alan Smart goal gave us a victory by the same score in April 1995. The number seven is the world’s favourite lucky number and it was certainly mine when the ball deflected off Jordan Hugill’s knee for a lucky strike which gave us a rather fortuitous lead in the seventh minute of the game. Hitman Hugill once again gave his all and posed problems all night for the Wigan defence. After his goal we went on the back foot and sat back deep which gave our opponents a lot of possession. They were awarded plenty of free-kicks as the referee did not appear to be an admirer of our physical play. We went into the break a goal up despite having been outplayed for large chunks of the half. Our opponents’ best chance had come when Will Grigg headed over from close range but rather than being terrified, our resolute defence remained undaunted and our ears were spared any renditions of the popular terrace chant. In the second half we were a better proposition both going forward and also much tighter at the back with Tom Clarke deservedly being awarded the man of the match award after another gutsy and gallant performance. There were several other candidates, with Chris Maxwell in goal on his first league start putting up a performance which was “good to the last drop” in keeping a clean sheet. Alan Browne and Callum Robinson both displayed a youthful energy. Robinson once again linked up well in a left-side partnership with Greg Cunningham which keeps on improving, while young Browne showed a great deal of tenacity against players with a more physical stature than him.
Perhaps the occasion dictated that fluent flowing football with an end-to-end game was never going to be the order of the day against Wigan But it was Simon Grayson’s North End who took the spoils thanks to an early deflected goal from the hard working Jordan Hugill. Wigan were well ahead in terms of possession but really only had two clear cut chances in the game and to North End’s credit we generally defended well when we had to. The big downside for me, in our performance, was the very poor percentage of ball retention during the game. Whether this was nerves, or North End just not concentrating when they had the ball, is open to debate. The stand-out performances in a fairly forgettable derby game were from the sponsors’ man of the match, Tom Clarke, and from Hugill, who I thought ran his socks off for the cause right to the end of the game. There was a decent atmosphere inside Deepdale under the floodlights with the crowd of 13,077 swelled by 2,527 who had made the short journey up the M6. Preston started the better and, playing 4-4-2, were rewarded as early as the seventh minute with what turned out to be the winning goal in front of the town end. Paul Gallagher played the ball in from the left and as it fell to Aiden McGeady, his shot took a strong deflection off the legs of Hugill and past the stranded Adam Bogdan into the net. It turned out to be the winner as it happened but the game looked, at that stage, as if there were going to be more goals in it. Wigan had plenty of the ball for a sustained period after the goal but apart from a Will Grigg header at the back post they never really looked like breaking North End down in spite of having almost two-thirds of the possession. Three wins from the last four games for North End and six points from the last nine in the league would indicate that the general state of the club is improving on the field. I’m still not sure myself what our best XI is but I am sure with the dark winter months ahead that the squad will come into its own when we start getting hit by injuries and suspensions. Certainly not a classic Preston v Wigan game and although Latics will probably feel a little hard done by, I thought we were worth the win over the 90 minutes. Often games like this are won with a bit of luck and while the goal may have been lucky these games are all about how many and not how.
After an up and down week for North End, a victory against Wigan on Friday night was a must and that’s exactly we got. Despite Wigan taking the majority of possession and keeping the ball well for big parts of the game, we stood strong, defended well and kept them at bay. Jordan Hugill scored the only goal of the game after Paul Gallagher played a ball over from the left which fell to Aiden McGeady and his shot took a huge deflection off the shins of Hugill and found the back of the net seven minutes in, just the start wanted by the home side. For all of Wigan’s possession, they never really created much to cause panic or danger amongst the Preston back four, the only two chances that stick out from Latics would be a Will Grigg header at the back post that should have been finished, and a double chance from Nathan Byrne who had two cracks at goal, first denied by Chris Maxwell before smashing the rebound against the post. It could be said that the North End midfield struggled to have much of an impact on this one and were dominated by Wigan for the majority, although the introduction of Ben Pearson in the second half changed things as he staked a huge claim for a starting spot on Tuesday night. The win made it three wins from four games for North End, our best XI is still probably not quite set in stone as different players come in and out game by game, but we’re getting there...a trip to Birmingham City on Tuesday will prove a stern test.
A strange display by Preston in front of the cameras for a Friday night derby against a newly promoted Wigan. Even by the end of the first half I was wondering if I was in one of those odd dreams … and that in this one the DW Stadium had been cloned on a Deepdale model. But no, we were definitely at the North End of the old boundary with Fulwood and yet the hosts were determined to play a classic ‘hit them on the break’ away performance that was more than a little frustrating for the home fans. It was a pity, as for once we got off to a great start which saw the only goal of the game coming in the seventh minute after some decent pressure. Yes, you could argue that Jordan Hugill was fortunate to deflect a Aiden McGeady shot off his knees, but it showed he had got into the kind of good position that allows strikers to poach a goal. After that, well the stats of 65% to 35% possession in favour of Wigan pretty much says it all. What was more surprising to me was that it seemed to be a deliberate tactic on behalf of the management team...again as if we were away from our home turf. However, it has to be said that over the course of 90 minutes the number of clear chances created by Preston did outnumber those of the visitors, even taking into account the Nathan Byrne shot that hit the post following an excellent save by Chris Maxwell. The man between the sticks was making his league debut for the Lilywhites, following on from his good performance in the midweek cup victory over Bournemouth. Also, the win ensured the first back-to-back wins in the league and gives us a platform to build on for the Tuesday night match in Birmingham. Three points are three points and we must remember that we have played much better this season and come away with nothing. Set against this context I will take them every time as we try to recover from our poor start.