Five talking points from Preston North End's 1-0 victory over Birmingham City in the Championship

Preston right-back Darnell Fisher leaves Jude Bellingham on the floor
Preston right-back Darnell Fisher leaves Jude Bellingham on the floor

Preston North End put their first away win in the league on the board, Sean Maguire scoring the only goal against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.

Victory moved North End up to third place as their good start to the campaign gathered more pace.

Preston manager Alex Neil at St Andrew's

Preston manager Alex Neil at St Andrew's

Here are some of the talking points from victory in the West Midlands.

1. We all know that Alex Neil is a deep-thinker when it comes to tactics and in most games this season he has got it spot-on with his approach.

Last week was all about letting Brentford have space on the wings and defending narrowly to defend balls into the box.

Birmingham are a very different side to Brentford, that’s the Championship for you – a contrasting challenge from week to week.

Andrew Hughes jumps with Lukas Jutkiewicz in Preston's win against Birmingham at St Andrew's

Andrew Hughes jumps with Lukas Jutkiewicz in Preston's win against Birmingham at St Andrew's

In an effort to make full use of the pitch when PNE were playing from the back, Neil chose to push the two full-backs up as high as we have seen them at the start of the attack.

At times Darnell Fisher and Andrew Hughes were as high as the wingers.

That saw Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher drop into the space left by them, allowing them to get on the ball early and spread the play with some diagonal passes.

Along the front line, it was again Tom Barkhuizen in the No.9 position, with Maguire on the right and Josh Harrop on the left – they swapped in the second half.

Barkhuizen playing down the middle was designed to put pressure on Birmingham centre-halves Marc Roberts and Harlee Dean, get them turned.

2. Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies are becoming quite a partnership at the heart of the Preston defence.

Everything Birmingham threw at them – a lot of it in the air – Bauer and Davies had answer.

Bauer is your rock-solid centre-half, Davies having a calmness about him which at times makes his play look effortless.

It’s Germany and Cumbria in tandem, eight matches in they are impressing to say the least.

Penny for the thoughts of Jordan Storey on the bench who played so well alongside Davies last season.

However, there can be no argument that Bauer has helped Preston’s back four take a step forward.

3. Is Darnell Fisher the most fouled player in the Championship? I’ve not seen any official statistics on that particular subject but he can’t be far off.

The North End right-back knows how to draw a foul and is particularly good at doing so to relieve pressure.

It drives the opposition mad, the Birmingham fans crossed Fisher off their Christmas card list it should be noted.

4. Sean Maguire has got his sparkle back.

The Irishman’s goal at St Andrew’s was his third of the season, matching the number he scored in the 2018/19 campaign.

Mind you, injury limited him to half-a-season, give or take a few games, last time.

This time, Maguire has been fit from the off – aside from the bang in the eye which ruled him out of the Nottingham Forest game.

Playing wide of the main striker with the licence to move inside is suiting him. It means he can avoid a physical battle against the opposition central defenders.

It was moving inside from the channel which saw him win the free-kick which led to the goal.

5. Has Joe Rafferty been unlucky?

In a word, yes. Having filled in so well at left-back for the past few weeks, Rafferty was back on the bench at Birmingham as Andrew Hughes returned from a hamstring injury.

It was a tough call for Neil, he admitted as such post-match, with Hughes' height advantage winning the day.

Were North End to be without Hughes again, they know they have a more than capable deputy in Rafferty.

And there's nothing to stop him battling with Fisher for the right-back position now. He replaced Fisher in the last few minutes on Saturday, slotting back into his natural position.