Selecting a stand-out moment from Preston North End’s five-star show against Barnsley is a rather difficult job in that there were so many to choose from.
Daniel Johnson scoring with a header? Ben Pearson just scoring full-stop?
Tom Barkhuizen’s show of blistering pace to set-up the goal for room-mate Pearson? Or David Nugent rolling back the years and imagining it was 2007 again?
There were many chapters in this game which sent North End into the international break in fine fettle.
Accepted, Barnsley were naive in their play and poor at times. But you can only beat what is put in front of you and PNE ruthlessly exploited the visitors’ shortcomings.
They moved through the gears as the contest went on and kept their foot firmly on the accelerator. Not content with a third goal, they got a fourth and then a fifth.
In stoppage-time Preston were still looking for a sixth and created three chances to get it.
They settled for five and can proudly call themselves the Championship’s highest scorers – two ahead of league leaders West Bromwich Albion.
Not bad for a side who fired blanks on the opening day at Millwall and didn’t look to have a goal in them.
They have scored 23 goals in the 10 league games since then, another five coming in the Carabao Cup.
Johnson got himself two more on Saturday, the first of those the aforementioned header.
His 37 other Preston goals have all come with his feet, so this one fell into the collector’s item category.
So too Pearson being on the scoresheet later on in the clash. His only other PNE goal had come three years ago on October 1, 2016, against Aston Villa.
If that pattern continues, lets’s look forward to the first weekend of October 2022 for his next one!
Also finding the net were Barkhuizen and Josh Harrop, the latter scoring soon after coming on as a substitute.
In the build-up to the game, Alex Neil had appealed to the PNE faithful not to get too ‘giddy’ about how things were going.
But even the North End boss must have felt more than a tinge of excitement at what he saw his side do against the Tykes – a club he served a player for four years.
Third place with 21 points on the board, two off the top. For a club with a bottom-four budget who barely rate a mention when the Championship is being discussed, that's good going.
Neil will enjoy the few days break ahead but you can bet that his mind will already be on how to carry the form of the last two months into the next batch of matches.
Pivotal to the good results so far has been Johnson. North End are by no means a one-man team but my word, what an influence DJ has had as the advanced midfield man.
He is able to do his best work nearer to the box and on Saturday he was finding space to play in at will.
Neil has been asking whoever plays as the main striker to drag defenders out of the way in order to create space for others to play in.
Nugent was given that role on Saturday, for the games in the last few weeks it has been Barkhuizen.
It has been effective, the striker not necessarily being the focal point for goals.
Johnson walked off with the man of the match award and deservedly so but others weren’t far behind.
Barkhuizen had his goal and two assists to show for the hard graft he put in. Pearson dictated the tempo against a club he had two spells with on loan prior to coming to PNE.
In leading the line, Nugent did ever so well too. He gave Barnsley’s centre-backs a tough time in his 73 minutes on the pitch.
The No.35 didn’t lead them on a merry dance or anything, he just used his experience to move them out of position or give them a nudge to knock them off guard.
Had he put away a glorious 60th minute chance which fell his way, the lid would have come off Deepdale.
Instead he scuffed his shot wide and collectively the PNE faithful held their head into their hands.
No bother though, DJ and Pearson showed him how it should done in the minutes which followed.
When sharing his thoughts post-match, Neil declared that Preston had been the better side from ‘first minute to last’.
You couldn’t disagree, the home side lively from the start and having had three great chances before their 31st minute opener.
Sean Maguire came inside off the left, fed a pass to Nugent who picked out Barkhuizen with a fine ball.
Barkhuizen’s right-foot shot from just inside the box was parried by Brad Collins.
Johnson reacted first as the ball bounced up off the turf, getting enough power in a header to take it back over the keeper into the net.
Barnsley's one chance on target all game resulted in a 43rd minute equaliser.
PNE weren’t switched on to a corner routine in which the ball was played beyond the far post, Cameron McGeehan able to turn the ball home from six yards.
Neil’s men wrestled the lead back within five minutes of the start of the second half.
Johnson broken down the inside left channel, squaring it to Barkhuizen who took a touch on the run and steered it past the keeper.
The ‘oohs’ from Nugent’s miss had only just died down when PNE got the third in the 61st minute.
Paul Gallagher cushioned a pass through the Barnsley back line to free Johnson. One-on-one, he chested it down and as he reached the box steered it round Collins.
Three minutes later North End got their fourth, a goal which was both clinical and rare.
Barkhuizen won the ball in his own half and burst down the left channel at some speed.
Cutting inside he got into the box and fed it low to the far post where Pearson steamed in to lift a close-range finish into the roof of the net.
Harrop got the fifth goal in the 77th minute, Johnson’s pressing 25 yards from goal seeing the ball break into the substitute’s path.
He held off a challenge and moved into the box before lifting a shot over Collins, both Harrop and the keeper chasing goalwards as the ball bounced in.
A fine afternoon's entertainment, a win which raised the expectation bar that little bit higher.