Preston North End and Nottingham Forest cancelled each other out in a poor game at Deepdale on Saturday.
Below we take a look at the main talking points.
Matching Norwich standards was always going to be tough
Wednesday’s win over Norwich was such a good performance it was always going to be difficult to reach those heights. That proved to be the case in the first half on Saturday. PNE looked nothing like the team that had been all over sides during a six-game unbeaten run. Their game lacked tempo and there were misplaced passes aplenty. Forest looked by far the more likely to score with only an offside flag denying Lewis Grabban before the break. The second half was scrappy and largely a non-event as neither side got any flow to their play. The reality is, in the Championship it will never be like watching Brazil every week and sometimes you are going to have to take the rough with the smooth. The wider context is that’s it now seven games unbeaten which is no mean feat.
Hindsight a wonderful thing with team selection
One again it was the same again from Alex Neil. The manager picking the same side that faced Norwich was no surprise at all and meant that over the course of the six-game unbeaten run, he had made just one change. It’s a remarkable stat really considering how much the side changed when PNE were in the grip of their injury problems. But given the quick turnaround Neil will surely have considered making changes and freshening things up. Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing and seeing the first-half performance Neil was quick to change things at the break before using all three of his subs before the 64-minute mark. Changing a winning team would certainly have opened him up to criticism and proves what a no-win situation managers are in.
Some players might rue a missed chance
Those who came off the bench got a rare chance to shine having been reduced to the fringes in recent weeks. Daniel Johnson did a decent job in trying to lift the tempo on a tough afternoon all round. Jayden Stockley cut a largely frustrated figure as he gave North End a different option in the final third. He got some rough treatment from Yohan Benalouane and then was booked for kicking the ball away after conceding a foul. Lukas Nmecha was frustrating, needing too many touches on the wing and looking good rather than producing much of note. It would be harsh to be critical of the trio though on a tough day all round. They certainly weren’t the only ones to come up short.
Flexibility one of defining features of this team
Alex Neil has spoken about how pleased he has been with the flexibility of his team during their recent unbeaten run. His half-time change, Jayden Stockley coming on for Paul Gallagher, brought out a rarely used system with PNE shifting to a diamond midfield. Stockley and Sean Maguire led the line with Tom Barkhuizen in behind and Ben Pearson at the base of the midfield. That continued when Lukas Nmecha and Daniel Johnson entered the field. It was further proof that this bunch of players can adapt to pretty much anything that is asked of them, something Neil has highlighted regularly in the past. It didn’t work but little did on a frustrating afternoon where the PNE boss tried just about anything.
Teams will come to frustrate at Deepdale
The pre-match analysis suggested that Nottingham Forest would make life difficult for PNE. Well organised and disciplined as all Martin O’Neill teams are, they certainly matched the predictions. That was especially the case in the second half as when North End tried to up the tempo and move them around more the visitors were rigid. They relied largely on long balls which after a more difficult first half, Ben Davies and Jordan Storey largely dealt with. PNE have always been at their best when teams have opened up against them but given the run they have been on this is something they might have to start to expect. Working out how to break teams down might become more of a focus in the build-up to games.