Dave Seddon's verdict on Stoke 0-2 Preston North End: Lilywhites pick up from where they left off in impressive fashion
The story of this clash was the contrasting response of the two teams to big wins in their previous outings.
Preston had beaten QPR 4-1 the Saturday before, with Stoke surprise 2-1 winners over league leaders Leeds.
It was to be Alex Neil’s men who carried on where they had left off, deservedly taking three points in the Potteries.
North End strung together successive away victories for the first time since April last year, while for Stoke’s new boss Nathan Jones it was back to the drawing board after the high of seeing off Leeds.
“It was a continuation of what we had done at QPR last week really,” said Neil.
“I thought we were great, for the first 30 minutes we controlled the game.”
Jones, having overseen a third defeat in four matches since succeeding Gary Rowett, cut a frustrated figure.
“I’m disappointed because we were passive compared to last week,” he said.
“When we did win the ball, we gave it back cheaply.”
Make no mistake about it, PNE were worthy winners at the bet365 Stadium.
They passed the ball well, pressed impressively, looked more streetwise than their hosts who are finding the Championship tough after 10 years in the Premier League.
PNE defended their box and goal as if lives depended on it.
They twice blocked on the line, with Declan Rudd saving a late penalty too.
At the other end of the pitch they were clinical, goals from midfielders Alan Browne and Brad Potts delivering a first win on Potters soil since Boxing Day 1998.
Seven subsequent visits had resulted in four draws and three defeats, this a case of eighth time lucky in the search for victory.
The Potteries weather was its usual unwelcoming self, damp and chilly.
Could North End do the business on a wet and cold Saturday afternoon in Stoke?
Too right they could and the scoreline is there as proof of their hardiness.
Victory took Neil’s men to within one place and two points of Stoke in the Championship’s mid-table.
If transfer fees, budgets, reputations and wages are any guide for measuring how a club is doing, then PNE are going more than okay and Stoke are underachieving.
The home bench had the backsides of Peter Crouch, Tom Ince, James McClean and Bojan perched on it.
Stoke’s starting XI included Benik Afobe, Peter Etebo, Sam Clucas, Joe Allen and Bruno Martins, none of who came cheap.
In contrast, PNE have done their shopping at a lower level.
Using this game as a guide, they are getting more return on their outlay than Stoke are.
Browne took his tally for the season to 10 goals, while Potts scored for the second game running.
Ben Pearson won his duel with Joe Allen but did a hell of a lot more besides.
Like at QPR, his passing was simple but had a purpose to it, helping to both prompt attacks but also keep possession when Preston wanted to take some of the sting out of the game.
Behind him, Jordan Storey and Ben Davies put in displays to yet again make a mockery of their young ages.
The centre-backs are 21 and 23 respectively, Storey this time last year still a week away from making his first start in League Two for Exeter.
Both full-backs caught my eye, Andrew Hughes as good on Saturday as he has been all season.
Darnell Fisher was back to the form he showed last season in contrast to the below-par shows which we had seen from him this term.
It was a grand day out for the 2,041 Preston supporters who made the trip down the M6.
The biggest away following of the campaign to date got a fine view of Potts’ second goal, coupled with his knee-slide celebration.
The players got a standing ovation as they filed past the away end next to the tunnel.
Neil had gone with the same team which had started at QPR – how could he not?
He just tweaked them back into a 4-2-3-1 formation after going 4-1-4-1 the week before.
That meant Potts on the right and Paul Gallagher on his 250th PNE appearance back in the centre of midfield.
Gallagher’s sighter which Jack Butland helped behind in the third minute set the tone for the first half in that it was Preston who would have the better of it.
Their 20th minute opener went with the run of play, one which had it origins down the right-wing.
Fisher collected a pass from Potts and cut inside into the box, his shot blocked by the sliding Martins.
The rebound came the way of Browne who dragged the ball from his right foot to left, selling Peter Etebo a fine dummy.
Browne then drilled a low shot into the bottom corner from 15 yards.
The home side’s best spell came either side of half-time, Davies getting his head in the way of Clucas’ far post shot early in the second half.
There was a goalline block by Davies to keep out a shot from Ashley Williams, that coming moments before North End counter-attacked for their second goal in the 80th minute.
Storey’s ball from the edge of the box found Pearson out on the right touch line.
He knocked the ball on and found Sean Maguire who in turn picked out Potts’ run with a fine first-time pass.
Potts ran clear, his first touch steadying him, a second seeing him shoot low past Jack Butland from just inside the penalty area.
The visitors looked home and hosed with that goal but the award of a penalty against them had the potential to make stoppage-time anxious.
Etebo got past Potts who clipped his ankle in an effort to tackle him.
Clucas took the spot kick, Rudd diving to his left to push it up against the bar – Davies clearing the ball behind.
That was a big moment for the keeper who has managed to hang on to the jersey amid much criticism.
This was a fourth away win in the league this term, a sign perhaps that PNE are looking more like their old selves.