A game of ifs, buts and maybes at Deepdale as North End crashed out of the FA Cup by four goals to two, to the side who sit bottom of the Premier League.
It was a tale of two players really, both with very differing fortunes on a bleak January afternoon at Deepdale. For the visitors, their highly rated young striker Adam Idah scored a hat-trick for the Canaries which were his first goals in the FA Cup. For North End, it was poor Connor Ripley who had the sort of afternoon that goalkeepers have nightmares about with two howlers to almost hand the game to Norwich.
Three down at half-time, and with seemingly no hope, PNE came out in the second half and battled hard against a slick young Norwich side but we were generally too slow in our build-up play.
Alex Neil made nine changes to the team that started against Middlesbrough last week and for large parts of the game the rustiness of some of the incoming players was on view for all to see.
The game was less than ninety seconds old when the visitors took the lead through Idah who just seemed to waltz through the defence and calmly slot home.
We did rally for a while and we looked like we were settling down when a shot from Hernandez managed to find its way under Ripley’s body and the goalkeeper knew he should have saved the effort.
Things went from bad to worse for Ripley and Preston when five minutes before half-time Ripley seemed to have judged a through ball well and intercepted it, only for his poor kick to go straight to Idah who calmly put the ball into an empty net.
Alex Neil resisted the temptation to make changes at half-time and it paid off almost immediately as man of the match Jayden Stockley headed goalwards and Billy Bodin was there to help the ball on with his head and into the net.
However, it was game over just after the hour mark when Norwich made it 4-1. Idah was brought down by Ripley when clean though on goal and dusted himself down to take the penalty.
To their credit North End kept on battling right to the end of this cup-tie and were rewarded later on scoring the goal of the game after good work from Bodin put Harrop through and the midfielder made no mistake coolly slotting the ball home.
A game that will only be remembered for Ripley’s errors and you have to feel sorry for a keeper when nothing he does goes right on the day.
Perhaps it was rustiness or perhaps a lack of confidence but the lad needs to shake this game out of his system as quickly as possible.
You could argue that this was almost a second-string game but facts are facts and North End have only won two of the last 11 in the league and the cup.
Eight goals conceded in the last six days at home and only two scored as we have dropped to 10th in the Championship table and are out of the FA Cup at the first attempt.
North End now face a season-defining January which starts with the biggest game of the season so far at Blackburn next week.
The squad needs strengthening and the manager himself said on television on Saturday lunchtime that he needed some help bringing fresh faces in.
It is a big moment in the season and I only hope the powers that be at Deepdale act positively to help the manager.