Preston North End 3, Stoke City 1: Read Craig Salmon’s big-match verdict
A house is only worth as much as somebody is willing to pay for it.
Buildings can go up in price, but can also experience a drop in value – the same could be said for the football transfer market.
And judging by Wednesday night’s showing at Deepdale, the current valuations of North End’s squad far exceeds that of their counterparts from Stoke City.
Yes it’s true, the majority of the Potters’ stars may have sold for vast quantities of money in the past, but under current market conditions, PNE’s exciting crop are far more desirable to perspective buyers.
Stoke’s former Premier League aces like Joe Allen, Sam Clucas, Sam Vokes and James McClean may have transferred for multi-millions of pounds during their careers, but they looked tired and out of date when compared to PNE’s vibrant young stars such as Daniel Johnson, Ben Pearson, Josh Harrop and Tom Barkhuizen.
Much is made of the sums of money spent by clubs in the Championship compared to North End’s prudence in the transfer market.
But it could be argued that PNE boss Alex Neil has spent the past two seasons, since his arrival in 2017, turning a few development projects into gems worth millions.
You only have to look at the price former striker Callum Robinson was sold to Sheffield United for in the summer.
Signed on a free in 2016 – admittedly by former manager Simon Grayson – Robinson only arrived at Bramall Lane after the newly-promoted Premier League side parted with a fee in the region of £8m.
While selling the former Aston Villa man may have made financial sense at the time, I am pretty sure Neil is keen to keep the rest of his playing portfolio together. After all, come the end of the season, the rewards may be priceless for the club.
North End were certainly fully deserving of their 3-1 victory over Stoke and in midfielder Daniel Johnson, they arguably had, on the night, the most valuable player on the pitch.
Handed an advanced role behind lone striker Barkhuizen, the cultured left-footed star was the focal point of the team as he linked up play between widemen Harrop and Billy Bodin and defensive midfielders Pearson and Paul Gallagher.
“I think our evolution in how we are trying to play and being a bit more expansive and retaining the ball at the top end of the pitch, has helped DJ,” said Neil.
“I think it’s unfair to say that all of a sudden, he’s come to life. I think we have manufactured a way to give him the best opportunity to showcase his talents.
“In that further forward role when we surround him with the type of players that we have been doing – if that works – he’s a very, very good player.”
Neil certainly sprung a surprise and raised a few eyebrows before kick-off when he announced his line-up and it was Barkhuizen who was asked to play up front in place of the injured Louis Moult.
The PNE boss had detected a weakness to pace in the Potters’ back line and that ploy soon became apparent when Barkhuizen raced on to a through-ball down the right in the seventh minute.
His subsequent cross was only half-cleared to the edge of the box where Johnson was lurking.
He won the race to the ball, flicked it in front of himself before firing the ball into the bottom corner past Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland, who got a hand to the ball and should have perhaps kept it out.
Worse was to come for the City shotstopper 18 minutes later when Barkhuizen tracked a long punt downfield by Declan Rudd.
Butland came out to meet it with his fist but only proceeded in directing the ball to Bodin. The winger looked to have let the chance go when he opted not to shoot first time with the keeper back-peddling.
However, when he did eventually shoot, the ball slipped under Butland’s body.
Two became three in the second half when Harrop – making his first start since recovering from a long-term knee injury – fired home in the 69th minute after Johnson’s shot had been parried by Butland.
City did find the back of the net in the 89th minute when McClean converted at the back post, but by then the Potters had been well and truly gazumped.