Preston North End’s derby clashes with Blackburn Rovers have tended to entertain since hostilities resumed a little more than four years ago.
Eight meetings have seen 28 goals, the Lilywhites winning five of them, Rovers just the one, with two draws.
Saturday’s meeting in the Ewood Park rain was perhaps the lowest quality among those eight encounters.
It started and finished at a pace but the middle section rarely enthralled.
North End were probably happier with a point than the home side were with theirs, in the fact they recovered from conceding another early goal to equalise and for spells had to play second fiddle to Tony Mowbray’s outfit.
Not that Blackburn were streets ahead of PNE, far from it, but they had the edge all things considered.
The scoring was complete by the 18th minute when Josh Harrop’s thunderbolt from the edge of the box ripped into the roof of the net.
That brought the visitors level after Adam Armstrong had taken advantage of two mistakes to give the hosts a third-minute lead.
It was mainly toil and graft from then on, the word ‘scrappy’ commonly used in the various post-match interviews.
While any point shouldn’t be sniffed at, PNE had headed to East Lancashire in need of all three, likewise Rovers.
Neither side had won since December 14, their records identical since – two draws, two Championship defeats and an exit from the FA Cup.
Maybe it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise then that this one finished all square.
A shortage of confidence going forward was a little more evident on Preston’s part than their hosts.
They scored the best goal of the game, indeed Harrop’s strike was cleaner than anything in the division over the weekend.
In terms of putting flowing moves together and finding an incisive edge to their game though, they found it a struggle.
At least they did score, something PNE hadn’t done in seven of their previous 10 league games.
And it was a ‘first’ of the campaign in the fact they equalised on their travels and got something out of the game.
Only once had Neil’s men scored a leveller away, pulling back to 2-2 against Swansea in August, a match they lost 3-2.
In the last two months, Neil has found it tough to come up with the right solution going forward. Different players have been tried along the front line to try and get them firing.
At Ewood it was Sean Maguire who led the attack, with Harrop and Tom Barkhuizen down the sides and Alan Browne as the No.10.
Scott Sinclair was saved until the last 10 minutes, Neil wisely putting the new boy’s fitness ahead of the obvious clamour for him to come on earlier or to even have started.
It is perhaps that little bit further back on the pitch where Preston’s creativity has been stifled of late.
This was a ninth game absent for Daniel Johnson with a knee injury, his comfort on the ball and ability to pick out a pass sorely missed.
DJ’s rehab has moved from the gym and outside on to the pitches at Springfields which is a good sign but we’ve no time frame yet on a return for the No.11.
He was the matchwinner for PNE at this venue last season, finishing off a move which swept from one end of the pitch to the other.
Just at the moment North End don’t have the confidence to put such a passing sequence together.
A win would change the picture and it is Neil’s hope that this draw can be used as a building block to a victory.
Preston certainly didn’t lack backing and support, with 6,276 of their fans making the trip east. Had Blackburn not put the restrictions in place about buying upper tier tickets first, the away end would probably have been even fuller.
When they relented and allowed PNE to sell upper and lower together, sales flew.
Only momentarily were the travelling fans silenced, that in the third minute when Rovers surged ahead at their end of the ground.
Tom Clarke’s pass in the Blackburn half was cut out by Stewart Downing and the ball fed to Armstrong on the left-wing.
He motored through the PNE half and cut into the box where really his progress should have been stopped.
Armstrong went past Patrick Bauer but looked to have shown too much of the ball to Clarke who could have cleared.
Instead the ball broke back into Armstrong’s path who steered home a low finish.
The use of skipper Clarke at right-back was questioned by many fans.
Clarke was picked ahead of the benched Darnell Fisher, Neil explaining later that Fisher had looked tired in the last two games.
A headed clearance Clarke made late on which prevented Danny Graham scoring, was something Neil was able to point to as justification for selecting his club captain.
North End were level by the 18th minute, a decent chunk of the time in between seeing Corry Evans treated on the turf for a suspected broken cheek bone and nose after Clarke caught him.
There was no malice, with Clarke already making a move to the ball when Evans dipped his head in.
When Maguire was fouled 35 yards out, Paul Gallagher lifted a free-kick into the box.
Ben Davies with his back to goal headed it down to the edge of the box, the ball bouncing once in front of Harrop before he hammered it first-time into the roof of the net.
PNE lost their rhythm after that with passes going astray and Rovers getting more of a hold on the midfield.
Things were a bit better after half-time, more even in terms of general play.
Only late on did Blackburn threaten to score a winner, Armstrong’s curling cross hitting the far post while Declan Rudd made a splendid diving save to deny Tosin Adarabioyo.
Take a point and move on is probably the best approach to this game.
In terms of bragging rights neither team will be shouting about this game for long.