North End just had the cutting edge in this Deepdale encounter, with Alex Neil’s boys making it four wins out of five with a very solid all round performance to beat Sheffield United 1-0 in front of 15,202.
I thought we were very good value for the win on an afternoon when we defended well and scored an excellent goal to take the edge of the Blades and to move up to just two points behind the Bramall Lane side. North End changed formation to deal with the threat the visitors posed but United created very few goalscoring opportunities and the back four, with Davies in particular, dealing with the threat of Clarke and Sharp very well. The winner came on the hour with North End looking comfortable at that point and although Sheffield tried to mount a challenge North End always looked in control. The visitors were backed by an excellent following of 3,820 and, to be fair, started the game brightly. After the break it was the home side who started on top with North End lifting their own tempo and it quickly took effect. Barkhuizen was put clean through by Robinson but he just couldn’t quite get the ball under control and the keeper saved for a corner. Robinson had a snap shot that went just wide of the right-hand post but just before the hour mark North End took the lead with the goal that was ultimately to win the game. A passage of play on the left saw Callum Robinson cut in towards goal in the left-half position before putting an absolute peach of a ball into the path of Jordan Hugill and the striker made no mistake volleying home past Moore. The win sees North End move up one place into ninth position but more importantly we are just two points outside of the play-offs as we move into the hectic Christmas schedule. Four wins and two draws from the last six games has seen us easing back into play-off contention effectively and just under the radar. I though Pearson and Davies were outstanding for North End on Saturday and that Callum Robinson is getting better and stronger with the extra game time. The squad look good and they look hungry, even with a couple of key players still missing through injury and if we can strengthen in January on top of what we already have then it could be a very exciting 2018.
For me this was a typical Championship game, full of ‘hustle and bustle’, but which still had moments of quality ‘cuts’ by the hosts who clearly had the sharper edge compared to the men from the city of steel. One of these was a trademark Paul Gallagher free-kick that rattled the crossbar, with the visiting keeper nowhere near it. However, it was three superb defence-splitting passes from Callum Robinson that caught the eye and that should have led to more than a single- goal advantage by time the 90 minutes was up. I have to be honest and say I don’t recall this really being a part of Robinson’s game and wondered if Alex Neil has seen something in training that is now being nurtured. Let’s hope this not a one-off but a sign of things to come. As per the norm this season, the dreaded left-back spot resulted in yet another injured player. This time it was the unfortunate Darnell Fisher, who had been switched to this position to allow room for Tom Clarke to continue his good form, albeit as a right back, alongside the central rock of Ben Davies and Paul Huntingdon. I have to say that his replacement Kevin O’Connor slotted in well again as he has done whenever asked to this season. Of the two halves, Preston North End were ahead in both with the better chances falling to them in the second period. Before Jordan Hugill scored from one of those Robinson passes, he should have already had a credit to his name for failing to convert from an earlier one. But three points are three points that now take us back well within reach of the play-offs as the busy festive season approaches.
Following on from Snowbomb Sunday and Black Ice Monday we had a freezing damp Saturday to endure at Deepdale whist watching our team make it four wins from their last five outings in a hard-fought Roses clash. The game’s only goal which secured a valuable three points came just before the hour mark when hitman Jordan Hugill peeled away from his marker to volley in a Robinson cross. Prior to this we had mustered up only a couple of first-half chances as both sides appeared to be well matched up and had cancelled each other out. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas with so many of the raucous away fans attending the game in Santa outfits and they were almost ready to shout “ho, ho, ho” early on in the game when Chris Maxwell miscued a clearance which gifted the Blades a golden opportunity to take the lead. Fortunately for us this was spurned and after this we defended so well that our opponents could not manage any serious efforts on target to trouble us again for the remainder of the match. With a lot of the play being concentrated in the middle of the park man of the match was Ben Pearson who was a pest to the opposition and won the ball back on several occasions with some bone crunching tackles. He was supported well by the returning Daniel Johnson who looked as if he might have received an early Christmas present in the form of some new bright blue boots which made him easily to notice. The win was important as it moved us to within two points of the Blades who currently occupy the last play-off spot which could, in the words of a famous commentator, make the rest of the season “interesting...very interesting”.