Preston North End 0-0 Nottingham Forest: Dave Seddon's verdict as Lilywhites come back down to earth after Norwich win
If beating Norwich City in the stylish manner they did was the Lord Mayor’s Show for Preston, then this stalemate with Nottingham Forest was the after-party which fell flat.
Maybe there was a touch of inevitability that PNE were not able to match the heights of last Wednesday night.
The 65 hours between the final whistle of the Norwich game and Saturday’s kick-off proved insufficient time to get themselves back up to the heights of last Wednesday.
Frustrating, yes, but by no means a disgrace – four points from two home games to add to the three taken at Bolton.
Had North End done things the other way round, drawing with Norwich and winning against Forest, there would not have been a murmur of disappointment.
Expectation had been raised by the slick show in the Norwich win though, hence the slight air of frustration which hung over Deepdale come Saturday teatime.
We will watch many games of football better than this one which was a stop-start affair on a pitch showing the effects of three games in eight days.
Forest were strong and well drilled, a tough nut for North End to crack.
Their two best chances fell to Brad Potts, both of which bounced off the giant frame of goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
At the other end, Preston were solid enough but did need a touch of fortune for one of the two ‘goals’ which Forest had disallowed.
The first was routine, Lewis Grabban having strayed into an offside position.
However, the visitors felt aggrieved when 12 minutes from time, Joe Lolley rolled a shot into the net but had it chalked-off for a foul by Ryan Yates on Declan Rudd.
Hand on heart I think PNE got away with that one, this not referee Tim Robinson’s finest 90 minutes.
He seemed determined to keep the yellow card in his pocket – sometimes that is no bad thing – but it was at the expense of letting persistent fouling go unpunished.
There was a spell in the first half when Sean Maguire got dumped on his backside four times by Alexander Milosevic.
But the only sanction was for Mr Robinson to call skipper Jack Colback over and tell him to have a word with his team-mate.
Milosevic’s centre-half partner Yohan Benalouane was no shrinking violet either.
Yet the game’s only yellow card was shown to North End substitute Jayden Stockley for kicking the ball away after a free-kick went Forest’s way.
You sensed Alex Neil had been stuck between a rock and a hard place before the games in terms of his selection.
Should he stick with the side which had played so well in the win over Norwich or put some fresh legs in?
He went for the former – same side and same subs as Wednesday night.
It might have proved to be the correct choice had North End taken a couple of chances which came their way early on.
As things turned out, they laboured after that and Neil turned to the bench early.
It was Stockley for Paul Gallagher at the interval as the PNE boss went for a change of formation.
They went from 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield.
Lukas Nmecha and Daniel Johnson were both summoned for duty by the 65th minute to try and spark something.
It was one of those games when whatever Neil tried, it didn’t quite come off.
What the goalless draw did was extend the unbeaten run to seven games.
The progress made over the last month is such that a draw of this nature was seen as a below par one. Just after Christmas, it would have been greeted with high-fives.
There were still positives to take from the contest.
Ben Davies put a couple of first-half slips behind him to go on and turn in an excellent display at the back. He had the job of tracking Grabban, one he did very well.
Grabban had company up front in the shape of Daryl Murphy, the Irishman there to win the first ball and allow Grabban to play off him.
That set-up saw Forest go quite long, meaning plenty for Jordan Storey to do in the air.
How this game unfolded was probably determined in the first few minutes.
It was Neil’s assertion that had his side taken one of the three openings which came their way in that spell, it would have opened the game up.
What happened instead was that those chances went begging and gave Forest the encouragement to stick to their game plan.
Hence an untidy contest ensued, both sides looking a touch leggy from their games the previous midweek.
“It wasn’t great was it?” said Neil post-match and you didn’t find anyone arguing with that statement.
Potts had already seen a shot deflected for a corner and Storey send a header too high when PNE had their clearest chance of the first half.
Maguire’s pass played in Darnell Fisher down the right hand side of the box.
The full-back got to the byline and drove in a cross which hit Potts and bounced against Pantilimon.
In the second half it was the 6ft 8in Romanian goalkeeper who again denied Potts.
This time the midfielder got on the end of Stockley’s flick from a Fisher cross and got a volley away which struck Pantilimon on the right knee and bounced clear.
The disallowed goal which had Martin O’Neill fuming came in the 78th minute.
Grabban swept forward on the counter-attack and shot low from the side of the box.
Rudd got down to parry and as the ball ran across the goalmouth, Ryan Yates slid in and might have caught the PNE keeper.
With Rudd on the floor, Lolley knocked the ball into the unguarded net.
Looking at the replay, Mr Robinson was already blowing for a foul against Yates before Lolley had his shot.
Having been denied a win at West Bromwich the game before by a very dodgy penalty, Forest’s mood was a dark one regarding this incident.
Perhaps the luck was with North End at that moment in a game when precious little else broke their way.
Maybe a point wasn’t so bad after all.