Sheffield Wednesday win the battle as Preston North End finish 2023 with disappointing defeat

Ali McCann in actionAli McCann in action
Ali McCann in action | CameraSport - pdh
Marvin Johnson scored the winning goal for Danny Rohl's side at Deepdale

Deepdale is a picture under the night sky and with 19 thousand supporters packed inside for the Friday night encounter, Preston North End were looking to pick up where they left off. Ryan Lowe's side headed into the clash on the back of a positive performance and excellent result against Leeds United. Having also seen off Huddersfield Town in December, could PNE finish the year with a Yorkshire hat-trick on home soil?

The early signs were relatively encouraging, with a zip about the home side - as energy from the stands swirled around and fuelled those on the field of play. Wednesday's players had been roared on by their sold out away end, while the return of Emil Riis to Preston's match day squad - for the first time in 361 days - was met with a ferocious noise from home fans. Lowe stuck with the same team and shape as Boxing Day. Liam Millar was the star of the show against Leeds and Danny Rohl was evidently aware of that, given the attention PNE's number 23 received.

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Space was there in the opening exchanges and North End were aiming to start on the front foot, with Alan Browne driving over from 20 yards at the end of a slick team move. Wednesday then raced down the other end, only for Will Vaulks to direct his diving header well wide after tricky wing work from Djeidi Gassama. Preston were finding themselves in promising positions in the Owls' half but struggling dearly to find the final pass, cross or shot. And on 30 minutes, the visitors sensed the chance to pierce through North End's back line. Rohl's side did just that, with Marvin Johnson galloping through on goal and slotting past Freddie Woodman.

North End headed in at half time down, but far from out. They would, though, need to come up with a solution given the comfort at which Wednesday had headed in with their lead. With Millar doubled up on - sometimes tripled - the onus was on Preston's boss to come up with something different and the players to execute it. After Tuesday's clash, mind, PNE captain Browne had outlined his view that Millar is a player who must keep going and going at defenders. And the Canadian almost levelled - when his first time shot from 18 yards crashed off the crossbar.

Preston were not struggling for territory, as they set up camp in Wednesday's half in search of an equalising goal. Instantly after Millar went close, Brad Potts had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down and Lowe then turned to his bench - introducing Jordan Storey and Ched Evans, before Mads Frokjaer entered the fray shortly after. Amid North End's hunt for one apiece was ever-increasing frustration at decisions from the referee, with Preston left aggrieved and confused by several calls in quick succession against them.

When that is the case though, there is always the sense that an important one may eventually go in your favour. With five minutes left to play - and with Riis introduced - Wednesday were reduced to ten men with George Byers shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident with Frokjaer. PNE had made their man advantage count almost immediately last time out, against Leeds, but Wednesday goalkeeper Cameron Dawson raced out to deny Evans just seconds after Byers was given his marching orders.

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North End were looking for a grand stand finish, but the Owls continued to defend their box admirably and deal with a bombardment of hopeful Preston crosses. Seven minutes of additional time injected some life into PNE legs, but Dawson was there when called upon again - this time to collect Potts' glanced header at the near post from a Frokjaer corner. The final whistle eventually sounded after 103 minutes and the Lilywhites could have few complaints at losing the battle of attrition. With it a hugely underwhelming note to close out 2023 on, Preston have just three days to get ready for Sunderland - and ensure they start the new year right.

Attendance: 19,763

PNE XI: Woodman; Potts, Whatmough (Storey 57'), Lindsay, Hughes, Holmes (Evans 57'), Whiteman, McCann (Frokjaer 68'), Millar, Browne (c), Osmajic (Riis 75') PNE unused subs: Cornell, Cunningham, Best, Ledson, Woodburn.

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