Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End again slow to get going after an international break as they lose to Derby County
Post-international break matches and Preston North End are a toxic mix.
Having to face clubs in such games who traditionally they don’t do well against whatever the occasion, just spoons in another dollop of frustration.
The fixture computer wasn’t kind to the Lilywhites when churning out the contests to follow October and November’s international breaks.
Reading away last month and Derby on Saturday were two games North End didn’t want as they returned to action after fortnight gaps in the fixture card.
They’d won twice in 15 visits to Reading before this season, while home or away PNE had failed to beat Derby in 12 games.
That run extended to 13 games at the weekend, as it had to two wins in 16 matches at the Madejski Stadium five weeks ago.
Only twice in the last three seasons have Alex Neil’s men won after a break.
Quite why that happens is something of a mystery. They don’t have too many players away with their countries, just Alan Browne and Sean Maguire this season.
They don’t sit idle during the breaks, the first week a mix of training and rest before a normal schedule in the second week building-up to the return in action.
Results haven’t quite been a one-way street after breaks, Brentford beaten in September while 12 months ago, Blackburn were hammered 4-1.
Last month at Reading, North End were pretty poor throughout. It was similar in the first half against Derby, not quite so bad in the second half.
They were fortunate to get to half-time just trailing by the single goal at Pride Park.
The home side hit the bar and were twice thwarted in one-on-ones by Declan Rudd.
Aided by a half-time double substitution and a number of players changing position, the visitors were better after the break but not to the extent where they could force an equaliser.
They had their moments, notably a Jordan Storey shot which hit the outside of the post.
However, it would have been harsh on Derby had they been forced to share the spoils. In truth, Preston didn’t do enough to deserve that.
Such performances and results are that bit harder to take when standards have been set so much higher this campaign.
We’ve seen many times what North End are capable of this season, with them going into this one on the back of three victories on the bounce.
When things dip below expectations, frustration runs that much deeper.
More than 2,400 North Enders had made the trip to the East Midlands, packing a corner section of Derby’s ground.
It was PNE’s biggest away following of the campaign to date and they travelled with high hopes, even if results on the road haven’t been as strong as those at Deepdale.
For 45 minutes, the Lilywhites didn’t show up, bar the occasional flash when they were able to string a move together.
Neil was to admit that he was caught between two stools in terms of selection and approach.
He wanted to play more of a possession-based game and try and hurt Derby with movement.
Such an approach perhaps didn’t suit the strengths of Jayden Stockley but here you had a striker bang in form and full of confidence.
Hence Stockley started but was taken off at the break along with Darnell Fisher who didn’t have the greatest 45 minutes of his life it must be said.
Derby played a lot in the space behind him, Tom Lawrence having plenty of joy in particular.
Booked in the 23rd minute for a foul on Mason Bennett, Fisher walked a tightrope until the interval.
That was his ninth yellow card and only once more does Fisher need to fall off the tightrope to trigger a two-game suspension.
Does Neil rest him at Hull to ensure his involvement against West Bromwich Albion or take the risk and deal with any consequences?
It might be that they are without a key member of the back four anyway at Hull, in the shape of Ben Davies.
He limped off with 18 minutes left, forcing the third and final substitution to be Storey’s introduction rather than David Nugent who was being readied to come on.
Storey hitting the post with six minutes left was the nearest Preston legitimately came to levelling the scores.
They’d earlier had the ball in the net, Tom Barkhuizen prodding in from close range after Davies had screwed a shot across goal.
Up went the flag against Barkhuizen who Neil was later to argue might just have been onside. PNE had been chasing the game since the 33rd minute when Derby finally made a chance count.
By then Rudd had denied Lawrence and sub Martyn Waghorn who had got behind the North End back line to get sights of goal.
The winner was rather a straight forward one, Holmes’ corner from the left flicked goalwards by Curtis Davies for Waghorn to chest it over the line from two yards.
The half-time changes from Neil sparked a response at least. Paul Gallagher and Billy Bodin came on, Stockley’s withdraw more tactical with Fisher taken off to save him from himself.
Alan Browne dropped into the right-back role, Gallagher taking up a deep midfield role to get on the ball.
Bodin took up a position on the right, Barkhuizen moving inside to play as a striker with Daniel Johnson as the No.10.
So in effect four positions got a fresh look and North End were better for it.
Gallagher was very good, spraying passes across the pitch in an attempt to get his team-mates behind Derby’s back four.
As Neil pointed out though, Gallagher and Ben Pearson playing deeper left PNE a man shy higher up.
Late on Patrick Bauer went up front in one last throw of the dice, the old classic of playing the big centre-back as an emergency striker. Unfortunately it didn't pay dividends.
The good news is that the next international break isn't until March – for the record, Preston travel to Huddersfield straight after it.