The term “Job done” could have never been more appropriate than in Norfolk– it was ‘Bootiful’.
The players superbly executed the plan drafted by the management team and when Alex Baptiste nodded home from a Daniel Johnson free-kick it was the icing on a very special cake. North End played 4-1-4-1 for most of the game and it seemed to work a treat, even though the midfield four looked light, at least on paper, in the tackling department. That wasn’t the case as every man played his part, with the best chances for the home side coming at the beginning and the end of the game. The Norwich fans were certainly disgruntled at the end of proceedings but not at North End, as their own side had high expectations but were not allowed to play by a Preston team growing in confidence as every game goes by. Chris Maxwell was in action right at the start as a Cameron Jerome shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar and on the evidence of his growing reputation, it might be a while before Anders Lindegaard gets his chance again. Maxwell was competent and accomplished throughout and he seems to be growing in stature as the team climb up the table. Jordan Hugill was then put clean through and really should have done better but his shot was well saved by McGovern in the City goal. Another half-chance for Hugill went begging and, at the other end, Maxwell was comfortably dealing with anything Norwich could muster. North End had the first chance of the second half when Pringle was put through by Gallagher but the midfielder seemed to shy away as the oncoming McGovern came to collect and spare the home sides blushes once again. North End were holding their own but the tempo went up noticeably in the last 20 minutes. Gallagher was taken off as North End went to a 3-5-2, allowing Johnson to get forward more, where he is at his most dangerous. With quarter-of-an-hour left North End won a free-kick in front of the travelling contingent and Johnson whipped a left-footer in right on the head of Baptiste who nodded home for the winning goal. The way things are going this, supposed, month of death might actually be renamed the resurrection shuffle as North End sit ninth in the table, three points off the play-off places. I thought that Baptiste just edged out Pearson and Maxwell in the man of the match stakes.
After an already fantastic last few weeks for North End with victories over Aston Villa and Huddersfield, whilst picking up a point away in Brighton, the trip to Carrow Road was always going to be just as hard, if not harder. Simon Grayson went with the same team from Wednesday night’s drubbing of Huddersfield and that decision paid off. It seemed to be a 4-1-4-1 set up for the visitors with Pearson playing in behind the midfield and Hugill up top on his own. The striker could and probably should have put us ahead just five minutes in when he found himself through on goal but a poor effort was gathered by the keeper – Hugill almost had too much time to think about it. There’s no doubt about it that North End at times had to just be patient, soak up the pressure Norwich City were putting on us and work hard to keep them out, and that’s exactly what they did. At the other end, we were struggling to create any real chances with just the one striker up there and it seemed the game was destined for a 1-0 win either way. In true Preston style, after Robinson won a free-kick in the corner next to the travelling fans, Daniel Johnson whipped it in to the box and there was Alex Baptiste to power home a header and give his side the lead with just 15 minutes to go. A victory for North End that I don’t think anyone will have expected, but a fantastic one at that. It was probably the best of the season so far. We are now ninth in the league and things couldn’t be going better, as it stands.