Preston North End 1 Cardiff City 2: Dave Seddon's verdict on a second-half turnaround at Deepdale
The key spell of Preston North End’s defeat to Cardiff City came in a 15-minute spell when a ball wasn’t kicked.
Half-time changed the direction of play at Deepdale, the contrast in the two halves marked to say the least.
PNE bossed the first half against a visiting side who for 45 minutes were poor.
Flip that on its head in the second half and you have the tale of the tape.
It was the Bluebirds who soared, stamping their mark on the game and scoring twice from set pieces to reply to Sean Maguire’s early opener.
Maguire scored 90 seconds into the game but that seemed like a distant memory by the time the final whistle went.
Cardiff got a rocket during the interval and how well they responded to that.
Their new manager Steve Morison also threw on James Collins for the second half, his fifth goal in three meetings with PNE winning the game for the Welsh outfit.
North End slid the other way after half-time, a shadow of their first-half selves.
They were slack for the two set plays from which they conceded and their attacking play went to pieces.
Almost from kick-off to the second half, Frankie McAvoy’s men were put on the back foot.
Even before Cardiff’s 51st minute equaliser, the visitors had put a shot wide and struck the woodwork.
Those were warning shots across the bow, ones which were not heeded.
Defeats either side of the international break have left McAvoy vulnerable. The hard work of victories over Luton and Bournemouth before that, has come undone.
In a big week ahead, North End face Middlesbrough and then Fulham.
Those are games head coach McAvoy surely cannot afford to lose. No way can the Lilywhites head to Blackburn in the first week of December still on 21 points.
The support for McAvoy from Peter Ridsdale in the first week of the international break was strong, an indicator that change may not yet be on the way.
But the Scot is winning few friends among the faithful at the moment as PNE struggle to find consistency in their results.
Not that McAvoy should shoulder all the blame for defeat, there were basics which weren't done by some players in the second half.
What I found really frustrating was that North End had time on their side to get back into this game.
Cardiff’s second goal hit the back of the net in the 66th minute, that hardly late in the day.
They continued to offer a threat on the break but as time ticked on were content to let the hosts have the ball while building a blue wall behind it.
Preston just couldn’t find any gaps, there were no close calls for Cardiff to breath a sigh of relief about.
When a side is chasing the game at home, you at least expect a couple of crosses flying across the face of the six-yard box.
Alan Browne attempted to inject some craft to North End’s build-up play, dropping into a quarter-back type role to get on the ball and pass it rather than resorting to long hopeful balls forward.
The PNE skipper is someone who has had his fair share of criticism this season but here he showed a real sense of responsibility, albeit without any reward.
This was a first home loss in the league since the opening day of the season.
They’ve been steady at Deepdale but just one away win has meant them having to lean heavily on their form in front of the faithful.
Hence this home defeat, not to mention the manner of it, being regarded as pretty damaging by the fans.
The fact North End had played well in the first half made defeat so much harder to take.
To have the lead inside 90 seconds having already had a chance, was the reward for starting at a good tempo on the front foot.
They stayed on that front foot for much of the first half before being pushed on to the back foot from the start of the second. Regaining their footage proved difficult.
Maguire had been without a goal in 24 Championship matches before taking less than two minutes of this one to find the net.
The rest of Maguire’s game this season has been good, his link play and partnership with Emil Riis impressive.
He was just missing a goal and with strikers judged on those, it was long overdue.
PNE forced back-to-back corners, the first being from Ali McCann’s deflected shot.
The second which Ryan Ledson delivered from the right flicked off a Cardiff head and travelled across to the far post where Maguire stretched to hook it in from close range.
Tom Barkhuizen, Andrew Hughes, McCann and Riis (twice) all had chances as the Lilywhites searched for a second goal.
They didn’t want half-time to come while Cardiff were desperate for it.
The quarter of an hour Morison spent in the visitors dressing room with his players was more fruitful than that down the corridor.
Chanka Zimba, making his first senior appearance, was subbed and replaced by Collins – scorer of a hat-trick for Luton against Preston last December and also the Hatters’ match winner at Deepdale in March.
The change of club clearly hadn’t diminished his liking for facing PNE.
Will Vaulks slammed a low shot from the right hand side of the box against the foot of the far post three minutes into the second half, Vaulks claiming the assist for the equaliser in the 51st minute.
Patrick Bauer was pulled up for a foul on Issak Davies down the right channel.
Vaulks lifted the free-kick into the middle where Mark McGuinness got in front of Sepp van den Berg at the far post to nod home.
Ledson’s 58th minute shot which Alex Smithies pushed behind was PNE’s one serious chance in the second half.
Eight minutes later came Cardiff’s winner, Ryan Giles’ corner met by Collins who guided a header over Daniel Iversen from six yards.
McAvoy’s three subs didn’t have the desired affect, Josh Earl and Scott Sinclair sent on in a double change before Daniel Johnson came on later.
In the closing stages, Browne tried to work the ball from his deeper position down the sides rather than hit it long but there was no breaching Cardiff’s blue wall.
On to Middlesbrough now from where Preston must bring something back.
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