Preston North End 4 Middlesbrough 1: Dave Seddon's verdict - Emil Riis a hat-trick hero or not?

The official statistics will have Emil Riis down as scoring 20 goals this season.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 8th May 2022, 12:28 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th May 2022, 12:31 pm

However, the groundswell of opinion at Preston North End is that their Great Dane should have 21 to his name and a hat-trick to round off the campaign.

Riis was credited with two goals in the 4-1 victory over Middlesbrough, the Lilywhites saving their biggest win of the season until the final day.

He felt he’d scored a hat-trick and had the match ball in his bag of belongings. Ryan Lowe backed him up, so too skipper Alan Browne.

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Preston North End striker Emil Riis scores the third goal against Middlesbrough at Deepdale

It was Browne who instructed the ball be given to Riis to take the penalty for North End’s fourth goal because he thought the striker was on a hat-trick.

Whether it’s 20 or 21 goals for Riis, it’s been a good second campaign in senior English football for him.

Jumping from three goals last season – he arrived a month into it – to 21 this time is a big leap and you would think that he has more to offer once he develops some consistency to his performances.

He’s tended to score in bursts and ideally you want the goals from one of the main strikers coming with a bit more frequency.

Middlesbrough's keeper Luke Daniels puts the ball into his own net under pressure from Preston North End striker Cameron Archer but it was disallowed

Let’s not kill the moment for the lad though, hitting 20 is decent going and something a PNE player hasn’t done since Joe Garner in the 2014/15 promotion season at the level below.

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So was it two or three goals for Riis against Boro? There were no doubts about his strikes to make it 3-1 and 4-1 – a delicious chip over the keeper and then a penalty driven low into the net.

The issue was the 35th minute goal which put North End two goals to the good, Browne having given them the lead.

Preston North End striker Emil Riis celebrates scoring against Middlesbrough

Riis chased a ball down the left channel, held it up on the side of the box and then turned inside between two defenders to open up his sights on goal.

He struck a low shot which might have gone in at the far post only for Dael Fry to divert it into his own net.

Riis’ boss Lowe, himself a goalscorer in his playing days, had no doubts.

Lowe said: “It was a hat-trick, 100%. It was a shot on target, I know someone has given it as an own goal but when you have a shot on target it surely is.

Paul Huntington in his final appearance for Preston North End

"I hope he took the ball and got it signed because those hat-trick balls don’t come around often.”

Putting the hat-trick debate to one side, what was not in any doubt was the deserved nature of PNE’s victory and the manner they went about achieving it.

Boro and their 5,600 travelling fans – a colourful and noisy bunch who were a credit to their club – arrived with the hope of securing a play-off place.

They needed either Luton or Sheffield United to slip up, neither did, and those results proved irrelevant anyway as North End bossed and bullied them, serving-up what Lowe felt was the best performance of his stewardship.

You might say the pressure was off Lowe’s men, with jockeying for position in mid-table the only concern as far as Championship placings were concerned.

There was more to the game than that though, the Lilywhites wanting to end the season on a positive note in front of the faithful ahead of what will be a big summer off the pitch.

PNE's Daniel Johnson and Ali McCann double up on Middlesbrough's Anfernee Dijksteel at Deepdale

What was vital too was that they finished on a winning note to send Paul Huntington on his way in style.

The Cumbrian Cannavaro bowed out after 10 seasons at North End, coming on in the 79th minute to make his 306th appearance.

He was accompanied on to the pitch by a cheer which rivalled any goal celebration, with the fans serenading him after the final whistle.

Huntington deserved that, he deserved to play his part in such a good victory with a healthy-sized attendance present.

PNE were better than Boro all over the field, something acknowledged post-match by visitors’ boss Chris Wilder.

The midfield battle was won by the home side, Ali McCann having his best game in a Preston game, with Browne and Ben Whiteman very good.

Daniel Johnson again stood in well at left wing-back, linking well with McCann, while the back three were for the most part secure.

Up front Riis came up with the goods, Cameron Archer next to him back at the level after a bit of a dip since the high of the Blackpool game.

PNE’s opener came in the 24th minute after keeper Luke Daniels had patted away Whiteman’s cross following a short corner. Bambo Diaby chased it out of the box and laid the ball to Brad Potts who lifted the ball into the middle.

Near the penalty spot, Browne brought it under control on his chest and wrapped his foot over the ball to shoot into the bottom corner.

Then came the whodunnit goal, whether it was Riis or Fry credited, it made it 2-0.

Boro’s goal three minutes into the second half was slack on North End’s par, Anfernee Dijksteel’s cross from the corner of the box sailing over Daniel Iversen and nodded in at the far post by Marcus Tavernier who had escaped the attentions of Potts.

Archer’s pass played Riis through in the 52nd minute, the striker reaching it on the edge of the box and lifting a chip over Daniels for the third goal.

It was game over when a shot from Archer was blocked on the line by Paddy McNair with his forearm, a penalty and red card the result.

Riis drove the spot kick home to complete the scoring and sign-off the season. Now the summer rebuild starts.