Simon Grayson felt a high-tempo pressing approach was key to Preston North End’s victory over Aston Villa.
The Lilywhites produced arguably their best performance of the season to beat Villa 2-0 at Deepdale, Ben Pearson and Jordan Hugill finding the net in the first half.
Both goals came after North End closed Villa down in their own half, with Grayson delighted to see that approach pay dividends.
“We had a game plan and the players carried that out very well,” said PNE manager Grayson.
“When the ball went into certain areas, the aim was to work Villa, press them, stop them from playing.
“We kept asking questions of them and every Aston Villa player will have realised they had been involved in a tough game.
“From the start we were right at it, we made sure we stopped their top players from playing – otherwise they could have hurt us.
“I thought that from start to finish we looked a very strong team and there were some strong individual performances.
“We were worthy winners and it was a pleasing way to round off a busy schedule of games.”
Pearson’s goal was his first for PNE since signing from Manchester United in January.
It came in the fifth minute and North End grew in confidence from then, creating a number of chances before Hugill hit the second goal.
Villa had only two shots on target, one of them a 95th minute penalty awarded after Bailey Wright had pulled back Jordan Amavi.
Chris Maxwell saved the spot kick from Ross McCormack, getting down low to push it past the post.
Reflecting on the performance of Pearson and some of his team-mates, Grayson: “Ben is one of a few players who has waited for his opportunity.
“His chance came along a couple of weeks ago at Bournemouth when he was outstanding.
“He came on as a sub against Wigan and then started the other night at Birmingham.
“I thought Daniel Johnson was outstanding in the middle of the pitch next to Ben.
“We defended superbly as a team, while our attacking play was very potent too.
“The wide players were a threat, while up front, Jordan Hugill was again a handful to play against and got his goal. The balance of the team was very good, John Welsh played that deeper role and did it with his usual quiet effectiveness.”
Preston’s win, which stretched their unbeaten run to four games, proved the end for Roberto Di Matteo at Villa – the Italian was sacked on Monday morning..
Said Grayson: “What happens at Villa is nothing to do with me.
“All managers are under pressure at times, sometimes after losing one game.
“We lost a game a few weeks ago and there were a lot of people calling for my head.
“It is just part of the job, the crazy nature of football.”
North End will have a couple of injuries to assess in the early part of the week.
Aiden McGeady came off with a hamstring injury and skipper Tom Clarke also needed treatment on the pitch.
Grayson said: “Aiden looks to have tweaked his hamstring and Tom was struggling with his groin at the back end of the game.
“That is what happens when you put everything into a game.”