Dave Seddon's match verdict: Preston North End 1 Southampton 3
Wins against Bamber Bridge, Cork City, AFC Fylde and Chorley were not a sign that Preston North End would walk the Championship in the season ahead.
Nor did Saturday’s defeat to Southampton at Deepdale condemn the Lilywhites to a campaign of struggle.
What the 3-1 reverse did do though, was to highlight areas of their game which need a bit of work and attention two weeks out from kick-off to the 2019/20 season.
Hence this clash with the Saints might just have been a timely one, a jolt in what had so far been a smooth-running build-up.
It was not a case of North End being dreadful, it is just that they could have done some things better.
Their distribution playing out from the back lacked some quality, Southampton’s high press forcing them to rush.
Going forward there was little service to the front with Alex Neil’s men not seeing enough of the ball to start with in midfield.
They were somewhat off their game and Southampton took advantage of that, as you would expect a side from the Premier League to do.
They were gift-wrapped the opening goal, North End keeper Connor Ripley kicking a clearance straight at Danny Ings – the ball cannoning off the Saints striker and looping back into the net.
It was not an error to hang Ripley out to dry with but it did bring the conversation of the goalkeeping position back to the table.
If indeed PNE were in the hunt for Arijanet Muric at Manchester City before he went to Nottingham Forest, does the search continue for another keeper?
For now, Ripley seems to have moved to the top of the pecking order.
I say that on the basis that the XI which started this game didn’t look too far off the strongest one available to Neil as things stand.
You might think Patrick Bauer has a good chance of making the side at Millwall on the opening day, Paul Gallagher too who was also left on the bench against the Saints.
Darnell Fisher and Brad Potts will also be pushing when back fully fit. But there looked to be the core of a preferred side out there, Ripley included.
Although the theme from Saturday was that things could be better, there were some bright moments.
Billy Bodin’s equalising goal was excellent – some fine movement to weave into the box was matched by the finish.
In midfield Ben Pearson was his usual industrious self, overcoming an early painful clash with team-mate Alan Browne to get up and carry on.
Preston though, were in the main slightly off colour but better for this to happen now than on curtain-up day at Millwall.
It wasn’t a full-strength Saints side which travelled, some of the squad left behind on the south coast ahead of a trip to China.
There were still notable names though, former Liverpool and Burnley man Ings joined by Shane Long and the young, powerful Michael Obafemi in a three-pronged front line.
In the wing-back roles, Cedric and Ryan Bertrand looked class acts, while in the second half there was a run from the bench for Nathan Redmond.
So don’t think that North End were up against a group of Premier League reserves.
The Saints’ 3-4-3 did cause them problems, for starters Sean Maguire got little change out of the three centre-halves.
Cedric and Bertrand got high up the pitch frequently to provide width, while the three forward players spread to attack across the front line.
Southampton had already had a couple of chances when they took an 11th minute lead.
Jordan Storey’s back pass should have been routinely dispatched up field by Ripley but he kicked it against Ings and could only watch the ball loop back over him.
The goal came soon after a let-off for the visitors at the other end, Jan Bednarek’s weak back header letting in Tom Barkhuizen.
He took the ball wide of keeper Angus Gunn but from a tight angle could only find the side netting.
PNE’s were behind only seven minutes, Bodin’s goal a bit special. He collected a throw-in from Tom Clarke to the right of the box, spinning inside to go between two defenders.
A third Saints player was side-stepped, that giving Bodin the space to curl a powerful left-foot finish past Gunn into the far side of the net.
Ings was left free to meet a Bertrand cross and head the visitors back in front on the stroke of half-time.
Then with seven minutes left of a second-half which had bordered on the nondescript, Redmond got to the byline and pulled the ball back low.
Ben Davies’ block stopped Stuart Armstrong meeting it, the ball spinning into the path of substitute Jake Voskins who finished from four yards.