Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 3 Blackburn Rovers 2 - a change for the better from the Lilywhites in the second half clinches derby victory
Take one tactical substitution, mix it together with a robust team-talk, a strategy change and a hefty dollop of renewed self-belief, and you have all the ingredients for the comeback Preston North End staged in their derby victory over Blackburn Rovers.
The two halves of football the Lilywhites served-up at Deepdale could not have been more contrasting.
For 45 minutes they were frankly shocking, in the words of eventual match-winner Tom Barkhuizen ‘a shambles and borderline disgrace’.
But in the confines of the home dressing at half-time, a route back into the game was cooked-up.
With North End trailing 2-0 to Rovers, the next goal was crucial.
Game over if the visitors got it, game on if Preston got their act together.
It was the latter and the momentum swung the way of the hosts in a fightback which will be remembered for some time to come.
Bragging rights stayed this end of the M65 for a third game in a row, Saturday’s success a fifth win in six meetings for the Lilywhites – the other was the 2-2 draw at Ewood Park in March 2017.
Even the most optimistic PNE fan would not have seen victory coming as the sides left the pitch at half-time.
Alex Neil’s men were all over the place, finding the most simple of things hard to do.
Passes were both over-hit and under-hit, with the team resembling strangers rather than the tight-knit unit we are more used to.
Rovers were ahead with 30 seconds played and 2-0 to the good by the 11th minute.
It was a hard watch, save for the 4,500 travelling fans in the Bill Shankly Kop who seemed genuinely surprised to see their side playing so well.
The seeds of North End’s recovery were sown with the 29th minute introduction of Jayden Stockley from the bench.
Paul Gallagher was the one to make way, although frankly it could have been anybody in a white shirt to get the hook.
Stockley didn’t make an immediate impact, in fact for that last quarter of an hour of the first half he was average to say the least.
But in the second half, PNE started to play to his strengths. The striker started using his 6ft 3in frame to good effect, he was there as a target to aim for and play off.
Not very often have North End gone down that route this season, their attacking route being more a case of sliding passes down the sides and in between defences to open them up, getting runners in behind.
A top-six place ahead of this one suggested that approach was working well.
There are times when something a bit different is needed and in this case it was going route one.
Stockley might not have got on the scoresheet but he was there in the build-up to all three goals.
Barkhuizen scored the first and third, with a Daniel Johnson penalty sandwiched in between, the winner from the right foot of Barkhuizen an absolute peach.
While there was a contrast in PNE’s first and second half displays, then it was roles reversed for Rovers.
They were the better side by far in the first 45 minutes, with them quicker and sharper in their play than North End were.
There was a touch of good fortune about their opener but you could not begrudge them the two-goal lead.
As we know it unravelled in the second half, with Tony Mowbray pointing the finger in various directions for why that was.
The referee, some of his own players, the North End team and even Neil copped a bit of flak from the Blackburn manager.
Another way of looking at it was that PNE built up a head of steam and didn’t take their foot off the gas.
By the end, Darnell Fisher was taking aim with 35-yard free-kicks, such was Preston’s confidence once they had turned things in their favour.
Neil had initially set up his team to try and play round Blackburn.
It just didn’t work, Rovers getting their noses in front so early perhaps contributing to that – they were able to sit off and make PNE force the issue.
The starting XI lacked a bit of balance. An injury to Ben Davies meant he missed a league game for the first time since early January.
Andrew Hughes got the nod to start next to Patrick Bauer as Neil sought to keep a right-foot/left-foot balance.
Hughes found the first half pretty tough going.
Higher up the pitch, Alan Browne started on the right and never looked suited to the wider role.
When he moved inside to an attacking midfield role, the Irishman was more effective.
However, it was Stockley’s arrival which provided the springboard for PNE.
Neil described it as a change of strategy rather than any tactical masterplan.
“We just went one player on, one player off, went with more of a targetman and worked off him,” said Neil.
He only used two of his subs, the other being Brad Potts’ arrival late on to help run down the clock.
Wind the clock back to just after 3pm and Blackburn had already gone in front.
Adam Armstrong crossed from the right, a header from Sam Gallagher hitting the post and bouncing off the back of Declan Rudd before crossing the line – technically an own goal from the keeper.
When Gallagher curled home a fine finish in the 11th minute - Hughes' attempt to cut out a Bradley Dack pass rebounding into the scorer's path - it looked like PNE had a long afternoon ahead of them.
They pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute, Fisher’s cross to the far post seeing Sean Maguire get the better of the keeper in the air to nod down for Barkhuizen to head home.
Neil’s men drew level in the 65th minute, Browne seizing on to a sliced clearance from Derrick Williams to run into the box where he was hauled down by Rovers skipper Elliott Bennett.
There was a gap of almost two minutes between the award of the penalty and it being taken, Johnson rolling the spot kick with an air of calmness into the bottom left corner.
Deepdale was anything but calm as the winner went in with eight minutes left.
Rudd’s goalkick was met in the air by Stockley who chested down and laid it off to Browne.
He rolled a pass into the path of Barkhuizen who opened up his body and curled home a delightful first-time finish to send three sides of Deepdale wild.
If Carlsberg did comebacks, this was it.