Very much a case of job done for North End as we collected all three points from a 1-0 home win against Queens Park Rangers.
An Alan Browne goal in the 51st minute was enough to divide the teams and on the balance of play few could have little doubt that PNE deserved their victory. We dominated for long spells, particularly in the first half and had a couple of decent chances to take the lead before the break. In the second half, once we had scored, I would have like to have seen a little more commitment in terms of going forward, scoring the second goal and managing the game to a safe conclusion. Having said that I though our game management was good on the day but it took a superb save from Declan Rudd with a minute to go to ensure all three points remained at Deepdale. The game started brightly enough with PNE playing the 4-1-4-1 that they have used in quite a number of pre-season games, with Ben Pearson in the holding role and Louis Moult taking the lone striking role in the absence of Sean Maguire. I thought Moult showed considerable improvement on his performances last season. North End had a few openings in the first half with Barkhuizen having two have chances well saved by Ingram and Robinson and Browne both coming close to breaking the deadlock. But much as North End tried we didn’t really create enough in the first period that our general domination of the game had warranted. After the break North End went straight on the attack and the winning goal came from a free-kick on the left after Andrew Hughes had been fouled close to the touchline. Josh Harrop put a deep ball into the Hoops’ box and Browne headed back into the far corner from an acute angle to give us a deserved lead. Both teams made changes as the game wore on with Horgan, Gallagher and Ledson coming on for North End to try and kill off the game. The crowd of 13,418 then held its breath as a Sylla effort in the 89th minute was superbly saved by Rudd. Five minutes of added time came up on the board and North End played several of those with only 10 men after Tom Clarke left the field with concussion. Alan Browne moved to centre-back and gave a performance reminiscent of Franz Beckenbauer. So the boys start with a victory in a game that they would have probably expected to win. QPR showed some signs of good football but you have to think that Steve McClaren has got his work cut out at Loftus Road this season. For North End I was impressed with Moult and Pearson in particular but it was one of those games in which the team collective brought about this result more than one or two individual pieces of brilliance. 12,400 home fans wasn’t a bad turnout for a not very attractive fixture particularly with people on holiday. A good start then for Alex Neil’s boys but tougher tests lie ahead.
There was no need for Rangers boss Steve McClaren to bring his umbrella as he stood on the touchline in the Deepdale sun to take charge of his new side for the first time. With the new electronic flashing advertising boards acting like a laser show, it was more like being on the beach in Ibiza – minus the trance music – rather than at the first game of the new football season as Deepdale along with the weather seemed in a more sedate and tranquil mood. We had the better of the first half but could not convert any of the openings we created. Rangers fans repeatedly sang to let us know they possessed a “big German” in their ranks and that is precisely what we could have done with up front as we looked solid in every other department and seemed to have assembled a very decent squad this term. We scored the all-important first goal early on in the second half and from then on looked reasonably comfortable without looking like adding to our tally. Ben Davies was named as man of the match but I was also impressed by our new left-back Andrew Hughes on his North End league debut, who looks like he could be a real find by our scouting network.