Preston North End 1 Fulham 1 - Dave Seddon's verdict on another point taken in battles with the Championship's leading pack
The tougher the task in terms of league position, the better Preston North End have done this season.
PNE’s 1-1 draw with Fulham was an eighth point collected against the Championship’s current top six.
They’ve got fourth-placed Blackburn to face next, scope there to add to their tally.
Victories came against Bournemouth and Coventry, Saturday’s lunchtime clash with the Cottagers having the same scoreline as the meeting with West Bromwich.
Stoke were in the top six when they were held to a draw at Deepdale, Luton too when North End beat them.
What can we read into this stat? That the Lilywhites are able to raise their game for the bigger occasion?
Or does it just emphasis how evenly-matched much of the division is?
The point taken off Fulham was deserved, albeit fortune shone on them for Ched Evans’ equaliser.
Had PNE pushed on and beaten the visitors, there could have been few complaints such was the level of their second-half display.
A point wasn’t to be sniffed at though, it a very satisfactory follow-up to the midweek win at Middlesbrough.
Like against Boro, Frankie McAvoy’s men had to come from behind to shake the spoils in this televised clash.
They had dropped their guard at a free-kick to allow Fulham skipper Tim Ream to score a rare goal – only his third in 227 matches.
Evans clambered off the bench to level with 18 minutes remaining, the visitors left to complain about handball by Emil Riis moments before his team-mate netted.
It wasn’t spotted by referee Chris Kavanagh or his assistant at that end.
There’s a theme there, the Premier League official and the same flag man having seen a foul by Antonee Robinson on Tom Barkhuizen in a different light to how most inside the ground had done.
Mr Robinson saw fit to only book the left-back for a scissor challenge on Barkhuizen, one which was over aggressive and fell into the endangering an opponent category.
Barkhuizen left the ground with a protective boot on his left leg en route for an X-ray.
A big point of discussion post-match was not about things which had gone on in the game, rather something which hadn’t happened.
This was the first time that Aleksandar Mitrovic had not scored in a visit to Deepdale.
Three previous trips with Fulham and Newcastle had yielded five goals for the Serb but on this occasion he didn’t get a sniff. That was largely down to Liam Lindsay who did a fine marking job on him.
Lindsay only played due to Patrick Bauer being injured, this the Scot’s first league start since August 17.
There had been a collective groan when the team sheet was published due to Bauer’s name not being on but Mitrovic’s was.
Mitrovic had missed his side’s previous game with a stomach bug and there had been a hope he’d stay down in London for this one.
PNE’s back line had more than one disruption over the course of the game, hence the plaudits for restricting Fulham to a single goal and only two efforts on target.
Bauer failed a fitness test on the morning of the game, Lindsay having been placed on standby.
The injury to Barkhuizen early in the second half saw Sepp van den Berg moved out of the back three to fill the right wing-back vacancy and Jordan Storey come in.
In stoppage-time Andrew Hughes was forced off with an injury.
A clear midweek looks like it might have come just at the right time.
For the first 25 minutes of the game it looked like this might be a routine victory for the Championship leaders.
North End showed them a little too much respect and sat off them. But as the first half wore on they started to make a fight of it and look like equal partners in the contest.
PNE bossed the second half save for the last few minutes, Ali McCann a real livewire in midfield – his display seeing him win Sky’s man of the match award.
I leaned Lindsay’s way on the starman front for his job of nullifying Mitrovic. But McCann was very good, he’s an intelligent player.
Ream’s opener was a fourth goal conceded from a set piece by Preston in a week, defending them having been a strength until now.
Josh Earl slid in on Denis Odoi to concede a free-kick on the right in the 15th minute.
Jean Michael Seri’s delivery was a touch of quality, knee height into the six-yard box where Ream darted ahead of PNE’s back line to steer the ball into the net.
Signs started to appear that there was a way back, Emil Riis getting a couple of openings in the first half.
Nine minutes after the interval, the Dane cut inside from the right and aimed a low shot towards the far corner which Marek Rodak dived to hold at the second attempt.
The game changer was the introduction of Evans after an hour in place of Sean Maguire.
Evans’ arrival on the pitch meant a hard time for Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo.
He was a right handful, throwing his weight around and adding a very physical presence to the forward line.
The equaliser came after Hughes had taken the ball down the left hand side of the box and forced Fulham to concede a corner.
Ben Whiteman curled it over right-footed, the first contact being Evans’ header six yards out.
It struck Riis’ hand on the line, Evans following up to bundle the rebound over the line with his shoulder almost on the goalline.
North End celebrated and Fulham protested but the goal stood – no pesky VAR in the Championship.
That’s two in two for Evans in the 67 minutes he’s had on the pitch. His fitness levels after three months out with a foot injury meant a start wasn’t possible in this one.
However, with a week’s training under his belt you suspect he’ll be in contention to start against Rovers.
It’s been a good few days for North End and now the focus has to be on it getting even better at Ewood Park.
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