A two goal-lead reversed on a Lancashire derby day that North End might want to forget.
PNE were soon two goals up and apparently cruising before a Declan Rudd howler and a shot going in off the underside of the bar left the scores level at half-time. A second half that won’t live long in the memory saw both sides take a point although the action wasn’t finished as Ben Pearson was sent off for headbutting Williams. Certainly the Trotters will be the happier of the two camps but for North End the blame game goes on around who is ultimately responsible for North End’s poor start to the season, after almost breaking into the play-off positions in the Championship just four short months ago. North End started the game reverting to the 4-2-3-1 that has served them well during Alex Neil’s time at the club. No targetman, though, with Robinson playing at centre-forward with Moult on the bench. North End were one up in 11 minutes when a misplaced back pass saw Barker put Robinson through. Five minutes later it was two with a spectacular Alan Browne overhead kick from the edge of the box. PNE seemed to ease off after the second goal and looked comfortable until Rudd let an Amoebi shot go right through him and put Bolton back in the game. Two minutes later the scores were level when Olkowski hit a shot from the edge of the box. Deepdale was silenced as the players trooped off at half time having almost won the game once. I expect that Alex Neil told the boys at half-time that they easily had the capacity to go on and win the game but the substitutions of Johnson and Barkhuizen for Burke and Gallagher did not improve North End’s general play one iota. Moult was then introduced for Barker but again there was little impact and if I am being brutally honest I thought Bolton looked like they wanted the game more. North End had a couple of half-chances later in the game via Robinson but the second half action only peaked after the final whistle when Pearson, who is fast becoming a liability, took issue with Williams. Pearson saw red and Williams yellow for the incident in what was a real melee and a very unsavoury incident on which to end proceedings. In the context of the game it was just a disappointing result in a local derby in which we were two goals up and only managed a draw. In the wider context of the issues surrounding the manager’s disappointment at not being able to secure the services of a striker, I fear the anger may well get worse before it gets better. The momentum from last season is a distant memory and all the goodwill built up by the club seems to be evaporating quickly. A statement on the owner’s plans and the training ground might help as communication from the club, recently, has once again lapsed into the bad old days. It’s not a crisis yet but I sense deep rooted frustration among a sizable number of fans.
After the previous two home games in which we have faced opponents in fluorescent purple and violet strips, Bolton arrived at Deepdale in a rather mundane grey one and after 16 minutes it looked like our visitors would have a day to match this colour as we raced into a two goal lead. Callum Robinson who I thought had one of his best ever games in a North End shirt troubled Bolton constantly by making runs behind their defence. He sent the home crowd into raptures when he slotted home our first league goal for what had been a long 236-minute wait for the faithful. Alan Browne then lit up Deepdale with a spectacular half-volley from 30 yards. From this moment on though it was all downhill as Bolton dug in and hit back with two goals in a three-minute spell just before the break. The first was in my book another goalkeeping error from Declan Rudd as he allowed a 30-yard deflected shot to squirm through his legs. The performance of the normally consistent and dependable Rudd in the last two games is something of a worry as his keeping has been as reliable as Billy Casper’s in the film Kes. Also a worry is the way in which an ordinarily looking Bolton Wanderers side controlled large parts of the game following their equaliser and the way in which we let our promising start evaporate to toss away two precious points. For the neutral, this hotpot derby was a colourful scrap but our day was further worsened by the dismissal after the game of Ben Pearson. For me, Pearson is our star player and the heartbeat of the team like Zinedine Zidane was for the French national side in the nineties. It is just a shame he has blotted his copybook by deciding to headbutt like him too – and he will be a bad miss in the next three games as we struggle to kickstart our season.
By the time the final whistle was blown I have no doubt that any neutral watching this match enjoyed it much more than the home fans. What had started as a cracking Lancashire hotpot, with a full helping of red cabbage provided by a stunning Alan Browne strike to put North End 2-0 up just after the 15-minute mark, turned to frustration as yet another basic goal keeping error allowed Bolton back in towards the end of the first half. Two minutes later and a two-on-two broke Bolton’s way for the equaliser off the underside of the bar. Whilst Declan Rudd could not be blamed for the latter, this was his third slip in the last two league games and he is clearly lacking confidence at the moment and in need of a rest. So, an unexpected all-square scoreline at the break made more frustrating by a decent opportunity put wide by Graham Burke at the 2-0 stage. A double Preston substitution at the start of the second half was probably an attempt to bring more bite into midfield in the form of Daniel Johnson replacing Paul Gallagher and a straight Tom Barkhuizen for Graham Burke swap in the hope of more impact from the wings. In all honesty it made little difference, as the second half proved to be a bit of a damp squib with neither side really dominating as the game wore on to a. literally, scrappy conclusion that ended with the ridiculous melee and subsequent red card shown to Ben Pearson after the game was over. Whatever the provocation, this young player needs to understand he is now a target and needs to learn how to deal with it. On the plus side, I thought loanee Brandon Barker’s through-ball to put Callum Robinson in the for opener again showed the effect of his forward attacking drives that also led to his spectacular goal in the midweek win over Leeds. A run in the league would surely now benefit this player.