Preston North End: Review of 2021 - Part 2
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Here is part two of our PNE review of the year.
Pre-season was testing for Preston and their fans, with there being a mixed bag of results.
The friendly at Bamber Bridge fell victim to a storm which waterlogged the Irongate pitch – the game was removed behind closed doors to Euxton.
North End spent a week in Scotland, training at St Andrew’s. They drew 1-1 with St Johnstone in a friendly and then beat Celtic 1-0 at Celtic Park – restrictions on the crowd in both games.
In pre-season, fans got the opportunity see PNE in action just three times, against Bolton (at Leyland), Accrington Stanley and Wigan Athletic.
The prestigious Deepdale friendly with Manchester United was pulled just 36 hours before kick-off after Covid worries forced United to cancel.
That was a big blow in terms of finance and game time for North End – they filled the blank Saturday with a behind closed doors game.
PNE supporters made their return to Deepdale after 17 months away for the Championship opener against Hull City.
Not since March 7, 2020, had they been able to set foot in the ground due to Government legislation over Covid.
There was an anticipation from the fans, excitement at the sense of normality.
Things started so well with Emil Riis giving PNE the lead in the eighth minute.
Joy turned to despair though, the Tigers roaring back to win 4-1 and flatten the atmosphere.
Victory over Mansfield in the Carabo Cup followed, Scott Sinclair (2) and Riis on target at Field Mill.
But Championship defeats to Reading and Huddersfield came next and already sections of the fanbase were voicing their concerns and displeasure.
Then came three victories, with Peterborough and Swansea beaten in the league either side of a 4-2 win at Morecambe in the Carabao Cup.
The win over Swansea was impressive, Van den Berg, Riis and Whiteman scoring after the Welsh side had taken the lead.
In terms of transfer activity, North End took things right up to the last seconds of August.
Having taken Josh Murphy on loan from Cardiff, they swooped to sign Ali McCann in a £1.2m deal from St Johnstone.
The move was registered with the EFL just five seconds before the transfer deadline!
This was a month of draws for PNE, with them sharing the spoils in all five of their Championship matches.
The 2-2 draw at Sheffield United saw a thrilling climax as Riis equalised with almost the last kick of the game.
They were more than a match too for West Bromwich Albion who were going well.
Progress was made in the Carabao Cup too, North End beating Cheltenham 4-1 in the third round.
That game saw a first start for Connor Wickham who had signed as a free agent.
But the former Crystal Palace striker’s night lasted just five minutes, with him badly damaging his hamstring, an injury which required surgery.
The death of PNE owner Trevor Hemmings cast a shadow over Deepdale, the 86-year-old passing away suddenly in the Isle of Man.
The clash with Derby County saw North End cut ticket prices to £5 and all recepits donated to charity as a mark of respect.
A crowd of more than 18,000 watched the game which ended goalless.
Coventry were beaten 2-1 at Deepdale, Patrick Bauer and Riis on target.
October 23 was a dark day for PNE, with them beaten 2-0 by Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.
It was the first derby meeting between the team for eight years and the first in the league since December 2009.
McAvoy never really recovered from the reverse, the North End fans unforgiving of a tame display on the big occasion.
Liverpool’s visit in the Carabao Cup was the next game, a sold-out Deepdale seeing the Reds score twice in the second half.
The month could not have started better for North End, with them becoming the first side to beat Bournemouth in the league this season.
Ben Whiteman and Ali McCann netted in a 2-1 win at the Vitality Stadium.
The inconsistency which had dogged PNE all season, reared its head in the next game three days later, with them beaten 3-0 at the City Ground by Nottingham Forest.
Defeat to Cardiff at home put McAvoy’s job onthe line but victory at Middlesbrough and a draw with Fulham kept him in office a little longer.
A second derby defeat of the season, this time to Blackburn, saw time called on McAvoy’s tenure.
On a sodden Ewood Park pitch, PNE had looked the better side in the first half but they conceded early in the second.
Chasing the game, they didn’t create a worthwhile chance – bar a strong shout for a penalty – and Rovers ran out 1-0 winners.
Two days later, North End released the news that they had sacked McAvoy after a little more than six months at the helm.
They took little time in naming his successor, Ryan Lowe recruited from Plymouth Argyle – he had got the Pilgrims and Bury promoted from League Two.
Compensation was paid for Lowe, North End keen to have him in place ahead of the home game with Barnsley on December 11.
There was a feelgood factor at Deepdale as Lowe’s new charges beat Barnsley 2-1 with goals from Browne and Johnson.
Lowe’s been made to wait for his second game, with PNE’s last three games falling victim to Covid call-offs.
He can’t wait to 2022 to arrive and get cracking again.
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