The performance from a injury-hit PNE squad against Aston Villa certainly made their supporters proud
To say that North End were up against it before the visit of fellow founder members Aston Villa to Deepdale on Saturday is somewhat of an understatement.
An already injury-ravaged squad has had one constant over the last two seasons in the form and fitness of Alan Browne.
So, when it was announced at 2 pm that this seemingly indestructible Captain Scarlett had succumbed in training to, yes you’ve guessed right, yet another hamstring injury, it seemed like all portents of doom would be fulfilled for a third defeat on the bounce.
A quick scan of the match-day programme at the number of Villa players brought in from Premier League clubs only added to this sense of gloom in the damp Deepdale air.
However, this set of players are not ones for lying down and taking whatever comes at them. With no less than five out of the seven players named on the bench yet to make their senior debuts from the youth team, you could be forgiven for expecting a hammering from the visitors in claret and blue.
The fact that Preston battled throughout and, on the balance of good chances created, could even have won it speaks volumes for the togetherness of this set of players.
As to the game itself, a neutral would no doubt have enjoyed the end to end affair that unfolded and resulted in a cruel Villa goal on the stroke of half-time that was more than matched with a Lukas Nmecha claimed equaliser in the second half.
Indeed, following that all-important equaliser, Tom Barkhuizen will probably still be kicking himself at a two great chances in succession to take the lead after he had rounded the keeper.
It was not to be, but this team can look anyone in the division in the eye and wear the PP on the badge with true pride.
North End took a point and plenty of pride from this final game of 2018 as they drew 1-1 with Aston Villa in front of 19,126 at Deepdale.
North End could have easily been two up in the early stages of the game but fell to a real sucker punch just on the stroke of half-time to go in a goal down. However, Alex Neil galvanised his men and PNE equalised just after the hour when a great move saw Elmohamady turn the ball into his own net under strong pressure from Lukas Nmecha.
The game really opened out after PNE levelled and chances at both ends saw North End hit the post through Tom Barkhuizen and Villa being kept at bay by the Preston defence and two or three exceptional saves from Declan Rudd in the North End goal.
With just 12 fit outfield players it was just a case of sorting out who was playing where for the manager and he decided upon his old faithful 4-2-3-1 with Gallagher playing out on the left and Graham Burke playing in the No.10 role.
It was Preston who started the better and when Jordan Storey hit the bar early on the North End crowd began to believe this might quite be another bad day at the office that many had predicted.
North End kept their shape well and restricted Villa for long periods in the first half through hard work and tactical nous.
Barkhuizen had a lob that just missed the left hand post and Burke had a great volley brilliantly saved by Nyland in the Villa goal but we fell behind just on the stroke of half-time after putting in a very good first half performance.
Whelan took a corner from the Villa left and Abraham headed home virtually unchallenged from six yards out to send Villa into the break one up.
It was a devastating blow for North End who fully deserved to go in level but no matter as the boys came out at the start of the second half no worse for the late reverse and with the determination to get back into the game.
Nmecha hit the post in the first minute after the break and North End had a big shout for a penalty when Barkhuizen was flattened by Nyland in the Villa goal.
With just over an hour gone North End were level when a great ball from Barkhuizen found Johnson on the right and his cross was turned into his own net by Elmohamady.
It looked like Nmecha had finally opened his account but video evidence dictated it was an own goal. The game then reached fever pitch with both teams going for the winner and both having chances to sew the match up.
However, it remained 1-1 and neither side could be too disappointed with, what I thought, was a fair result in an excellent game and a great advert for the Championship.
I think this result has to be taken in the context of the injury crisis at Deepdale and the strength of the Villa squad on show. Just 12 fit outfield players and four kids and a third choice goalkeeper on the bench.
Heroic is a strong adjective to use but this was an heroic performance particularly from some players who came in for criticism after the Hull game. Graham Burke put in an oustanding shift as did Ryan Ledson and Jordan Storey.
Gally gave his all as ever way out of position over on the left of an attacking three behind Nmecha.
In fact all the boys put in a tremendous ninety minutes and were fully deserving of the point they secured and were unclucky not to collect all three. Perhaps this performance will spur the lads on for the final festive fixture at Rotherham on Tuesday afternoon when we will be looking for the win to salvage something from this tough festive programme.
The game with Aston Villa produced the same scoreline as the first ever match between these two founder members of the Football League on the field of Deepdale Farm 130 years ago.
If 16-year-old Ethan Walker and 17-year-old Adam O Reilly had been around in those Victorian days they would more than likely have been sweeping chimneys rather than making their league debuts for PNE as late substitutes – an illustration of the current state of our injury-stretched squad.
I arrived at Deepdale fearing the worst and expected this game to be a really stern test for our young side against a Villa side backed by 5,000 noisy fans on the old Spion Kop.
However I was pleasantly surprised after a valiant display against the odds which if likened to a cake from Mr Kipling could be described as exceedingly good.It was a great solid team performance the only blot being the conceding of another poorly defended set piece which gave Villa an undeserved lead on the stroke of half-time.
Man-of-the-match was Ryan Ledson who displayed a good range of passing movements and was also strong in the tackle.
With pantomine ex-Villain Daniel Johnson also pulling the strings in the middle of the park despite being booed by the raucous away following, we looked like we might go on and win the game following his creation of our equaliser which would dispel the theory that even without the suspended Ben Pearson there could still be a party and we might end up enjoying a late festive knees up.
However as the game opened up late on Villa looked more lively at the death after we had been the best side for the majority of a game with the performance more Yippi Aye Eh for us North Enders and well worthy of a toast or two.