Tom Sandells’ Preston North End Press View: PNE can handle ANYONE at home!
Deepdale continued to be the fortress we’re becoming accustomed to on Tuesday. This time Leeds came and went without taking maximum points.
They’re only the second side to leave PR1 with anything to show for it this season, Bristol City drawing 3-3 despite having just 39% possession.
But therein lies the difference to this week.
On Tuesday, PNE had just 37% of the ball – the home team.
That isn’t to say they performed below par – far from it – but it shows a distinct shift in tactics.
Alex Neil has credited the excellent home form in part due to the approach.
Last season, his side liked to play on the break, liked to exploit overconfidence and break quickly.
That didn’t quite suit at Deepdale, teams could come and sit in and force PNE to break them down.
This campaign, Preston are taking it upon themselves to command and control the game.
They haven’t always had the possession stats backing them up as I used earlier but they haven’t needed to.
PNE have been setting the pace, getting early goals, taking chances, or even just getting lucky, and continuing to dictate.
That may come in the shape of allowing them the ball and using the strength they’ve got on the break, but equally, they’re just as happy in possession this time around.
With the Leeds game, things were different.
Neil has enormous respect for Leeds and for boss Marcelo Bielsa and has made no secret about that.
But I think Tuesday’s performance shows PNE are a complete side at home.
That performance was largely different to anything so far.
They couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong, and almost didn’t.
Neil put Leeds’ goal down to having too many in the wall for the free-kick from which the ball broke free.
But it was a much more defensive set-up.
Again, that isn’t to say they didn’t want to win, as I don’t think Neil knows any other way of playing.
PNE showed they’re capable of doing the dirty side.
Tactically, it was a fascinating game to watch.
As they often do, PNE had set up to nullify the opposition.
Although this time, I think their own game came secondary.
First things first, deal with Leeds, then see what we can do.
It’s hard not to bend to the way Leeds want the game playing but North End well and truly matched them.
That isn’t them playing Leeds’ way either, in their own way, whilst cancelling out the visitors, North End did what they do.
They were still pressing from the front, they still had Ben Pearson sliding across the midfield to keep play moving and they still had all four of the defenders stepping forward on the ball.
That’s why I think PNE are now a complete side at home. They’ve played all types of teams at Deepdale and have been able to come away with wins in them all.
Against lower opposition, Barnsley were completely blown away – North End simply a cut above.
Brentford are currently a mid-table team and they were confidently sent back to the capital with nothing to show for their time in Lancashire.
You would consider Sheffield Wednesday play-off contenders – currently third in the league – but they were sent back to Yorkshire with the same 2-0 scoreline as the Bees received.
Then you look at title hopefuls in Leeds.
They receive a lot of plaudits and rightly so, they’re a very good side.
But they weren’t good enough to come away from Preston with everything.
North End have now shown they have every facet of the game at Deepdale.
Individual performances on the day will always decide the result, I believe North End can handle any Championship team after Tuesday.
But having said that they may well just throw one in against Blackburn at the weekend or anyone else – such is football.
Tuesday showed something we hadn’t yet seen this season.
They can go up against any team knowing they have the versatility to adapt their shape and personnel, and still play their way and get a good result.
The “6, 8, 10” as Alex Neil put it being prime example.
Johnson used in a more advanced, deeper role; the “8”.
Pearson still as a “6” but this time Browne the “10” doing extra running pressing the Leeds centre-half.
That’s different to what we’ve generally seen so far at home.
Time will only tell whether PNE do actually become a complete side at home this season.
They probably won’t go unbeaten, and they will probably have a bad spell at home.
But I think they’ve showed they’re capable of being complete.
Cue 1-0 Rovers on Saturday.