Dave Seddon's verdict: Cardiff City 0 Preston North End 0 - A tale of missed opportunities in Wales
Preston North End didn’t pick the ideal moment to record their first goalless draw in 10 months.
Live on Sky they created enough chances to win all their Christmas games let alone this one at Cardiff.
But the Lilywhites left South Wales with just a point to show for their lunchtime efforts and they knew it should have been all three.
Sixteen chances came their way over the 90 minutes and of those I would put seven in the ‘scorable’ category.
Sean Maguire had three of them, together with Billy Bodin, Alan Browne, Paul Gallagher and Ben Pearson.
Bodin and Pearson forced good saves out of Bluebirds keeper Neil Etheridge, while Gallagher’s effort which curled just wide was unlucky.
However, sides who want to be promoted need to take their chances.
Rarely do you get the chance to boss an away game to the extent North End did on Saturday.
The 16-3 shots ratio, a 56% share of possession, you could even question if Cardiff’s recorded shot on target was actually such.
To say I was surprised when City boss Neil Harris claimed ‘there wasn’t a great deal in it’, is something of an understatement.
His side didn’t lay a glove on North End, a first-half shot from Lee Tomlin which went just wide and a late chip from the same player which Declan Rudd helped over, as good as it got for them.
If you are going to seize on positives from this game, a draw is better than nothing and at least halted a run of three away defeats.
Cardiff are strong at home, with PNE only the fourth side to go there and bring anything away this season.
But in the analysis of the game, you will always return to the missed chances and the frustration that brings.
This was a fourth game on the road in a row that they hadn’t scored, their last away goal being Paul Gallagher’s penalty at Charlton at the start of November.
In two thirds of the Cardiff City Stadium pitch, North End were very good.
They defended well and in Pearson had the game’s best player by a distance.
Pearson was at the heart of everything PNE did, he ratted in midfield to win the ball and used it well – he was the driving force.
Had he put an 87th minute shot a few inches further across the keeper than he did, the 24-year-old would have netted the winner.
Sky Sports gave him the man of the match award and produced some stats to back that choice up.
Pearson had 77 touches and made 60 passes – 51 of them being successful.
Five times he made interceptions, with him helping to create three chances.
One of those saw Pearson drop a delightful ball over the defence for Maguire to run on to and shoot wide at the end of the first half.
For all PNE’s freescoring at Deepdale, away from home they are finding it tougher in front of goal.
Naturally the focus will be on unearthing a striker in the January window but those don’t grow on trees, especially with the budget North End operate on.
They need that player who can take the one chance which falls his way.
It will be rare that PNE get the number of chances they did at Cardiff every week.
What turns teams in the play-off mix into genuine contenders is the ability to put that half chance away, to turn one point into three.
At the other end of the pitch, the clean sheet was welcome. It was the first since Charlton, the fifth shut-out of the campaign.
North End turned the back the clock almost 12 months with long-serving pair Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington starting a league game together.
That had last happened in January, injuries on Clarke’s part and Huntington’s fall in the pecking order the reasons behind that.
Clarke played at right-back, standing-in for Darnell Fisher and Joe Rafferty who were both suspended.
The club captain played well, bar a yellow card for going to ground too easily on the edge of the Cardiff box in the first half.
This was Huntington’s fifth game back, him and Patrick Bauer winning the battle against the home attack.
They snuffed out any threat from Robert Glatzel, a £5m signing from German football.
For the last half hour when Gary Madine and Danny Ward came off the Cardiff bench, they had more work to do.
But they largely came out on top, a good afternoon’s work for the defence against a side who had scored three times at Leeds the week before.
Alex Neil had picked a side to try and move the hosts out position.
Tom Barkhuizen led the attack, supported from the left by Maguire and the right by Wales cap Bodin.
David Nugent moved to the bench, Neil deciding against the use of Jayden Stockley from the start as that would have played into the hands of a physical Cardiff back line.
PNE’s attacking intent was there from the start. An early shot from Bodin went too high before the first of Maguire’s chances came his way.
Browne did well to set him up, Maguire getting behind the home defence but fired his shot into the side-netting.
The Irishman did likewise at the other post a few minutes later, this time with a header from Bodin’s deep cross.
A shot from Bodin at the end of some nice link-up play between Browne and Maguire, forced Etheridge into a smart save low down.
The best chance of the second half came when Curtis Nelson played a blind ball across the back.
Browne intercepted and moved towards the box but with Maguire available for a pass, the midfielder chose to shot and saw his tame effort roll to the keeper.
Nugent, Brad Potts and Stockley were introduced later on but could not find that elusive goal.
A first 0-0 draw then since the blankety-blank against Nottingham Forest at Deepdale in February.
New away shooting boots are needed for Christmas to try and get back among the goals on the road.