A very significant victory for North End as the charge to the play-offs begins in earnest.
It might well be that North End fall short this in, what is, a hugely competitive Championship but on the evidence of this victory it certainly won’t be for the want of trying. North End were excellent value for their three points and the 4-4-2 that Simon Grayson selected looked a very attacking line-up before the game. A trademark goal from a Gallagher set-piece just before the quarter-hour gave North End the advantage and although the Seagulls had plenty of the ball it was the home side who were looking the more likely, Horgan and McGeady were causing problems down the flanks, while not neglecting their defensive duties, and in the engine room Browne and Gally were not being overrun by a team who hadn’t lost in the league since late September. Only 13 minutes had gone when North End took the lead with a typical Preston goal. Gallagher took a free-kick from the right hand side and got his trajectory just right for Paul Huntington to nod the ball down and into the net. A fully deserved lead at the break for North End who, you could argue, were without a spine of the team in Wright, Pearson and Beckford. North End reverted to a 4-2-3-1 after the break, I would imagine to give us more security against an expected Brighton onslaught. With just under 10 minutes gone of the second half Daryl Horgan played a superb ball through for Callum Robinson and despite the efforts of the Brighton captain, Bruno, he managed to engineer a shooting position and fire the ball past the experienced Stockdale and make it 2-0 for the Whites. Horgan, himself, almost capped his full debut with a goal but once again the ball just evaded the goal, going inches wide. Brighton launched a late rally but it was too little too late although they did get a penalty in the 96th minute but Chris Maxwell saved superbly to his right from Hemed’s shot. Many positives from this Preston performance not least of which was the togetherness of the squad irrespective of which 11 take to the field. I thought Browne had one of his best games for North End and Horgan looked like he had been playing in the Championship for quite some time. The two centre-backs were again dominant with Paul Huntington giving his usual no-nonsense display and quietly getting on with the job of keeping out the opposition. The attendance inside Deepdale of just 11,391 which included 1,205 travelers from the South Coast was very frustrating for the North End faithful Only just over 10,000 home fans inside Deepdale after a superb performance last week against Arsenal must be disappointing to those running the club. Nevertheless it was a thoroughly professional performance by the boys and augers very well indeed for the final 20 games of the season.
The high flying Seagulls were left squawking after being knocked off their perch in a bruising encounter at Deepdale. We followed up the encouraging team performance against Arsenal in the FA Cup with another solid all round display against the league leaders, which produced a big three points and sent us up into ninth place in the league table. Alan Browne, who had one of his best games in a North End shirt, was awarded the sponsors’ man of the match but in fairness a strong case could be made for any of the starting XI to receive it. I was particularly impressed by Daryl Horgan on his full league debut with the Irishman producing a defence-splitting pass, which Liam Brady would be pleased to add to his portfolio, in setting up Callum Robinson to roll in the killer second goal. Brighton were limited to few clear cut oppurtunities due to the efforts of the hard working defence which included Paul Huntington, who scored the opening goal which was his first for the club since the play-off final against Swindon at Wembley. Huntington has been given the oppurtunity to stake a claim for a regular place in the starting line up following the sale of Bailey Wright who I feel won’t really be missed at Deepdale and had to be sold as he had continually refused discussions to sign a new contract. We now have assembled a decent squad at Deepdale with players able to swap and change and play to a system and it is pleasing to see us continue to punch above our weight and be above some of the divisions big spenders. The future looks bright for The Whites whose brand of football must certainly deserve to be watched by more than the paltry crowd who attended this game against the league leaders .
Excellent team performance by North End, as they became the first club to beat top-of-the table Brighton since those early Autumn days of September … ah yes, before the clocks went back and winter drew in upon us. Simon Grayson’s long-term policy of building a squad of players who can step in at a moment’s notice to play comfortably in at least two positions, is starting to pay dividends as Preston kicked on from the disappointment of an underserved defeat to Arsenal (wow, what a great point to reflect upon) last time out. Injuries, illness and suspension meant a number of changes were required and every one of those replacements stepped up to the mark; none more so than league debutant Daryl Horgan, who was a thorn in the side of Brighton all afternoon and who provided the telling ‘peach’ of a pass that let in Callum Robinson to finish with aplomb and deliver the killer second goal in the opening phase of the second half. Mind you, the Paul Huntington headed goal in the first half had the superb delivery of Paul Gallagher written all over it as his beautifully flighted free-kick created the opportunity for Huntington to finish with great joy as he ran over to the Invincibles’ Pavilion to celebrate. To be honest, I think the visitors were somewhat surprised with our team ethic and tenacity as bodies, legs, heart and stretched sinews were all thrown into the mix in the closing stages to keep Albion out. This was best summed up by the penalty save by Chris Maxwell in the last few seconds of stoppage time … a great way to finish the game and move onto the eagerly awaited league return to fellow founders Villa for the first time since 1973. The first ever league match there in 1889 ended with a 2-0 win to PNE, whilst the 1973 game saw that result reversed. Here’s hoping another reversal is on the cards this time around.
Baptiste, Pearson and Johnson all out, whilst the league leaders – unbeaten in 18 games – are in town? Not a problem for the impressive North End. With Gallagher and Browne running the middle of the park this weekend, people could have been forgiven for thinking we may have been in for a tough afternoon considering Brighton’s league position and recent form, but it wasn’t to be. With McGeady down one wing, Horgan down the other, at times you just had to sit back and think...how good is this? Horgan looks to be a brilliant find, an assist on his league debut, a threat all afternoon, an almost world-class goal followed by a well deserved standing ovation when substituted. Preston put in a very impressive, solid and well organised display against Chris Hughton’s side who never really got going, never threatened enough to think we were in danger of not getting a result. Huntington grabbed his first goal since Wembley with a header early on, which capped off a good performance for the man who’s found himself back in the heart of the defence recently, and done well whilst there. The game- killing second goal came from Robinson. An absolutely magnificent ball upfield from Horgan cut through the whole Brighton defence before Robinson latched on to it, held off Bruno well before finishing. Just to top it off, Maxwell saved his third penalty of the season.