Preston North End: Review of the 2020/21 season, Part 1 - September and October

Just seven weeks after the delayed finish to the 2019/20 season, Preston North End kicked off 2020/21 against Swansea City on September 12.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 15th May 2021, 8:00 am

In line with performances at Deepdale over the first couple of months of the campaign, the opener ended in defeat – the Jacks leaving for South Wales with a 1-0 victory.

The build-up to the game had been accompanied by speculation linking Daniel Johnson with a move to Rangers, the midfielder subject of a failed £1.5m bid from the Ibrox outfit.

Johnson sat out the first game with a groin injury, fuelling talk that he could be on his way to Scotland.

Darnell Fisher scores for Preston North End against Norwich at Carrow Road

After the opening-day loss, North End redeemed themselves by winning 2-1 against Derby County at Pride Park in the first round of the Carabao Cup.

Alan Browne was the only player to start the Swansea game to start at Derby, as Alex Neil used the full depth of the squad.

PNE somehow fell behind early in the second half after being the better team but in the closing stages turned things in their favour.

Tom Barkhuizen’s leveller was a superb shot from outside the box.

Tom Barkhuizen volleys home PNE's equaliser at Derby in the Carabao Cup

The winner came late on from the penalty spot, Johnson find the net after earlier coming on as a sub.

North End’s next game was the long haul to Norwich in the Championship.

A Government pilot scheme allowed 1,000 home fans to be inside Carrow Road, it being a forerunner to what was hoped to be a return of fans to every ground in October.

Those lucky enough to be inside the stadium, together with four PNE supporters who had booked a room at the hotel overlooking the pitch, were treated to a collector’s item in the shape of a first goal in English football for Darnell Fisher.

Scott Sinclair fires home as PNE fight back to win at Brentford in October

He put PNE 2-1 ahead after Scott Sinclair had earlier scored from the spot.

That lead lasted until the 85th minute when the Canaries equalised for the second time.

Even with only 1,000 fans watching, Fisher still managed to wind them up with his celebration.

Despite conceding the late equaliser, it wasn’t a bad point for Preston against a side who would finish as champions.

Alan Browne hooks home PNE's winner at Huddersfield

It had to be remembered that the squad had not been strengthened during the shortened close season, it being ‘same again’ for the Lilywhites – much to the frustration of Neil.

September was to finish on a downward note for North End.

Their Carabao Cup run came to an end in the third round when Brighton beat them 2-0 at Deepdale.

Both teams made mass changes for the game, both deciding that even at this early stage of the campaign, the league was more important. The last game of the month was Stoke City’s visit to Deepdale.

Neil went three at the back with wing-backs but his plans were tossed out of the window after 22 minutes when Tom Barkhuizen was red carded for what the referee deemed a dangerous tackle.

A man down, North End conceded a goal six minutes before half-time and that was sufficient for the Potters to leave town with three points.

Barkhuizen’s red card was appealed on the basis he had slipped before making the tackle and had therefore not been intentional.

The FA heard the appeal but upheld the referee’s decision to send off the winger.

However, they did reduce the usual three-match ban to just one game.

It general, the mood was low at Deepdale after the first month of the season.

If September had ended on a downbeat note, October was to kick off for Preston North End on a high.

On the first day of the month they made their first signing since January, Emil Riis joining in a £1.25m deal from Danish club Randers.

The striker put pen to paper at Manchester Airport after flying in by private jet.

Riis joined the squad for training ahead of their Sunday visit to Brentford.

Current form and the fact the Bees had been beaten in the play-of semi-finals, pointed to it being a tough afternoon at the Brentford Community Stadium.

It looked that way at the interval, Brentford leading 2-0 through an Ivan Tovey double.

However, North End were to turn the game on its head in the second half.

They ran out 4-2 winners, two goals from Scott Sinclair bringing them level.

Brad Potts and Sean Maguire then struck to put their side out of reach of the home side.

Riis got on as a late substitute and showed a few promising touches.

The international break followed and traditionally North End haven’t been great after the fortnight’s shutdown.

They moved into their new Euxton training base during the break, it having been spruced up since being bought from Wigan Athletic’s receivers for a knockdown price in late August.

The return to action was against Cardiff, the Welsh side winning 1-0 at Deepdale in front of the Sky cameras.

More than a month into the season they had nothing to show for their efforts on home soil. On the road, things continued to be the complete opposite.

On the Wednesday after the Cardiff defeat, North End travelled to London to take on Queens Park Rangers.

It was further capital gains to follow up the Brentford game, PNE winning 2-0.

Both goals came from the penalty spot, both penalties given away by Lee Wallace.

Daniel Johnson, back in the side after a groin issue, rolled home the first with Sinclair getting the second.

Preston hit the road again three days later, making the shorter trip to Huddersfield.

Frankie McAvoy was missing from the team bus, self-isolating after a case of Covid-19 in his family.

Paul Gallagher stepped in to fill the void, joining Alex Neil and Steve Thompson in the technical area.

Another victory came the Lilywhites’ way and like at Brentford earlier in the month, they had to come from behind.

Huddersfield took an early lead but skipper Alan Browne scored twice in the second half to deliver three points in the West Yorkshire rain.

The ‘home and away’ saga was to continue, though.

North End returned home to Deepdale and were beaten 2-0 by Millwall in a midweek fixture.

Birmingham then pitched up on the Saturday and won 2-1, their winner coming late in the contest.

A small consolation for PNE was that they scored their first goal at home, a stunning 35-yard strike from Jayden Stockley.

After the two away wins had lifted the mood so much, Neil was crestfallen after the successive home losses.

The manager reasoned that North End were missing their fans at Deepdale and it was hard to disagree as results went against them.

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