Preston 1, Peterborough United 0: Tom Sandells looks back on North End's first win of the season
North Enders all around Deepdale breathed a huge collective sigh of relief on Saturday after Preston picked up their first points of the season.
Three defeats out of three in the opening fortnight of the season had certainly left supporters concerned about the future.
But Frankie McAvoy’s men finally got up and running with a battling 1-0 victory over newly-promoted Peterborough United thanks to a fine headed goal by the returning Patrick Bauer early on.
Although the win was most welcome, PNE kept it interesting for those watching.
Despite having more than enough chances to but the game to bed, North End were unable to put breathing space between themselves and Posh and in the end were happy to hear the referee’s final whistle.
Former North End manager Darren Ferguson, who is now in charge of Posh, saw his men have a big chances with virtually the last kick of the game.
Fortunately, that opportunity was spurned as North End lifted themselves off the bottom of the Championship table.
Bauer – back in the heart of defence for a league game after eight months on the sidelines recovering from an Achilles injury – enjoyed a dream return.
His towering headed goal after 14 minutes was just the tonic the hosts needed, but his commanding presence at the back was also crucial as North End registered their first clean sheet of the season in the Championship.
He was the pick of a team of good performers – Ben Whiteman running Bauer close for the man-of-the-match award.
The midfielder was brilliant in breaking up attacks, dictating the tempo and getting forward in an effort to get on the end of moves.
He and Ryan Ledson controlled the middle of the park and allowed others to exploit space around them.
Such was the work rate amongst the team, most of the players fell to their knees following the full time whistle.
It was certainly more like the PNE we saw towards the end of last season when they enjoyed a fine run under McAvoy – after the departure of former boss Alex Neil – to navigate their way to safety.
They looked sound defensively, but for only a couple of scares, and were creative going forward.
The poor finishing could be a result of a lack of confidence and hopefully this result will go a long way to restoring that.
It does not mean that all is now rosy in the garden, there is still work to be done.
Some reinforcements before the end of the transfer window would come in handy too and hopefully the club can push through some deals before it shuts at the end of this month.
The support from the fans was another positive despite the murmurings of discontent in certain sections of the faithful.
Much has been said about the mood of the North End fans and McAvoy appealed to supporters to get behind the team ahead of kick-off.
It was the lowest league attendance in five years - a reflection of the club's poor start to the season perhaps.
But the fans who came certainly backed their side on Saturday for the full 90 minutes and played a part in North End clinging on to that whole important win.
PNE started the game brightly, setting the tone after six minutes as they worked the ball all the way up the pitch with Ben Whiteman arriving onto the ball at the edge of the box but his shot was blocked.
The home side continued to look the most likely to break the deadlock and that is how it proved to be.
Ledson crossed a free kick in from the left. It was a bending, teasing delivery which the centre back met with a firm header. Christy Pym, in the Posh goal, could not keep it out, despite getting a hand to it.
Just past the half hour mark PNE would have their next major chance.
Daniel Johnson won the ball inside the Peterborough box.
He carried the ball towards the penalty spot and aimed high over the bar, although in mitigation he was off balance.
McAvoy’s men maintained the pressure and almost doubled their advantage a minute later but Whiteman saw his effort hit the woodwork.
Collecting a pass from Johnson, the midfielder hit a volley from the edge of the area but it crashed against the crossbar. The frantic pace continued and Sinclair was next to have the chance to make it two after 35 minutes.
He was played in behind the backline by a lovely Sepp van den Berg pass but the striker could not beat Pym with his low strike.
The away side started the second half the better of the two. Siriki Dembele beat the PNE defence before his shot was cleared off the line.
North End then wrestled back control, Johnson winning the ball high again and curling it for the far corner, which Pym held after 56 minutes.
Back to back chances could have seen the Lilywhites extend their lead just moments later.
Sinclair broke down the left and cut inside but his shot was parried by Pym, Josh Earl nodded the rebound towards Whiteman whose powerful drive narrowly evaded the top corner.
It could have easily been 1-1 though as Jonson Clarke-Harris latched onto a ball in behind with the last kick of the game.
He sent his effort goalwards but North End goalkeeper Daniel Iversen was equal to the task, turning the ball around the post.
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