Preston North End: Review of the 2020/21 season. Part 2 - November and December
Hitting the motorway and travelling to an away ground again worked wonders for Preston North End as they got November off to a flier.
Awaiting Alex Neil’s men at the Madejski Stadium were Reading, a side top of the table and unbeaten at home.
Despite being without defenders Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer and Andrew Hughes, North End won 3-0.
They shook off a penalty miss by Daniel Johnson at 0-0 to go on and romp to victory.
Scott Sinclair Emil Riis and Brad Potts found the net, North End displaying some excellent counter-attacking football.
It was Riis’ first goal for Preston (right) and richly deserved after some strong displays.
Victory was PNE’s fourth on the bounce away from home, but a fifth was to evade them when they travelled to Rotherham.
Ryan Ledson looked like he had earned them a point when scoring an 80th-minute equaliser – the midfielder’s first goal for the club.
But the Millers scored an 86th-minute goal on the break when Potts gave the ball away in midfield.
North End had a fortnight to stew on the defeat as the latest international break came around.
In that time, their next opponents Sheffield Wednesday appointed Tony Pulis as manager. Pulis brought the Owls to Deepdale on November 21 and at last North End put a home win on the board.
The visitors had Josh Windass red-carded early on for a high challenge on Joe Rafferty.
Against the 10 men, PNE made the breakthrough three minutes into the second half when Tom Barkhuizen volleyed home.
After the much-needed win and clean sheet, things went badly wrong for North End in the next two matches.
They were given a hiding in the derby with Blackburn Rovers at Deepdale, going down to a 3-0 loss.
Rovers’ third goal of the night was scored by Tyrhys Dolan, a player who had been released by PNE at the end of his scholarship.
There was a red card for Rafferty in the first half, the full-back having given away a penalty.
North End’s last clash of November was a tough trip to Watford who had kept hold of the bulk of their squad from the Premier League.
After a decent enough first-half performance, they were beaten 4-1 with Barkhuizen getting their consolation.
It had been a mixed month to say the least with the strong win at Reading and the first home victory.
But the Blackburn defeat stuck in the throat, while the four goals shipped at Watford didn’t lighten the mood.
After ending November with two defeats on the bounce, North End would have been forgiven for facing their December 1 visit to AFC Bournemouth with some trepidation.
They need not have worried, the Tuesday night visit to the Vitality Stadium resulting in 3-2 victory.
North End were excellent, piercing the Cherries’ defence at will for a deserved three points.
Scott Sinclair netted what would some months later be voted PNE’s goal of the season.
The only negative from the night on the South Coast was a season-ending injury suffered by Patrick Bauer.
The German snapped his Achilles tendon towards the end of the game – it was a case of ecstasy to agony for Bauer having earlier got the scoresheet.
Preston counter-attacked wonderfully for the opening goal in the first half, Daniel Johnson showing a burst of pace down the left before crossing for Tom Barkhuizen to score at the far post.
Sinclair doubled the lead after PNE had countered from their own penalty box.
Taking a flick from Sean Maguire, he spotted the keeper off the line and chipped him from 40 yards. Bauer slid in at the far post to guide Johnson’s cross over the line and make it 3-0.
There was a nervous finish as Bournemouth pulled back two goals, 11 minutes of stoppage time added on after Bauer’s injury.
PNE returned to Deepdale to draw 2-2 with Wycombe, the game seeing Chairboys boss Gareth Ainsworth back at the ground where he was a fans’ favourite.
It needed a late own goal for North End to earn a point, Barkhuizen having scored in the first half before Wycombe scored twice.
Three days later, Preston were 3-0 winners against Middlesbrough at home.
Brad Potts deflected in an Andrew Hughes shot for the opener, Sinclair and Emil Riis later on target. Seven points from nine available in early December was a healthy return.
Things then took a dip though, starting with a 3-0 hammering by Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.
It was the second game North End played in front of a limited crowd, Luton being in Tier 2 at the time allowing them to welcome 2,000 home fans through the turnstiles.
PNE were dreadful on the day, the Hatters winning 3-0 with James Collins netting a hat-trick. North End didn’t raise a gallop, Alex Neil not holding back in his criticism post-match.
Another defeat on the road was to follow, this time a 2-1 reverse at Barnsley.
Maguire’s second-minute goal got Preston off to a great start but the Tykes struck back in the second half.
Fortunately, PNE were to end December how they had started it – on a winning note.
Johnson’s penalty earned them a 1-0 win over Bristol City at Deepdale in front of the Sky cameras.
A most satisfying win came on Boxing Day against Derby County.
Alan Browne struck an absolute beauty of a winner in the 97th minute – PNE’s first league win at Pride Park since 2002 and their second of the season after victory in the Carabao Cup.
The final game of 2020 saw North End beat Coventry City 2-0 at home, Johnson and Maguire finding the net.
Sixteen points from eight games in the month was very encouraging.
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