Preston North End edge Coventry City 3-2 and Alan Browne shines in pulsating Championship clash
PNE returned to winning ways at Deepdale
The Championship is a wonderfully unpredictable league and guessing the outcome of North End’s meeting with the Sky Blues felt somewhat impossible ahead of kick-off. Preston were without a win in seven, while last season’s play-off finalists occupied 20th place heading into the Deepdale encounter. Two teams, desperate for a victory, met on a brisk November afternoon. Ryan Lowe made three changes for the game, with one of those enforced as Kian Best replaced the injured Greg Cunningham. Milutin Osmajic and Mads Frokjaer also came into the side.
And the positive intent supporters want to see was there from the off. With Liam Millar, Osmajic, Frokjaer and Holmes in the side North End carried an early threat. Frokjaer seemingly has work to do to fully earn Lowe’s trust, but the Dane is at home with the ball at his feet and his quality is there for all to see. He picked up smart pockets of space and the bleach blonde Millar went at Joel Latibeaudiere, while Osmajic made dangerous runs in behind and Holmes buzzed around. Behind them, captain Alan Browne set the tempo - sitting deeper in North End’s box midfield.
Osmajic could not provide the ruthless touch to finish off a PNE counter attack on the 10 minute mark, but encouraging signs were there for Lowe’s men. And with almost three thousand Coventry fans making the trip up to Lancashire, noise swirled around an atmopsheric Deepdale. The stage was set and Preston were the ones in the ascendency, but Lowe’s side have been on the wrong end of some crucial decisions in recent weeks and on 33 minutes, big questions were raised once again.
Out of nowhere, Matt Godden saw the ball drop kindly for him inside Preston’s box and his fierce snapshot was pushed out by Freddie Woodman - but only as far as the waiting Haji Wright, who simply could not miss. The American, though, looked to have strayed offside and Lowe’s men were stunned not to see the flag raised. North End had to take their medicine and do it the hard way. And, before Anthony Taylor had blown his half-time whistle, they had done exactly that.
The aforementioned Best was operating at left centre-back, but the youngster looked forward at every opportunity and it was his whipped cross which dropped kindly for Holmes. Having seen a fellow countryman get himself on the score sheet at the other end, North End’s number 25 was not going to pass up his opportunity: one touch to set himself, before a big swing of the right leg and drilled finish into the far corner for one apiece. The equaliser felt more than deserved - and North End’s supporters had barely taken their seats back before they were up again.
Best’s incisive pass in behind carved Coventry wide open immediately after the restart - and the scoring chance looked to have eluded PNE as Osmajic blazed his effort high and wide. But, Premier League referee Taylor had spotted a foul by Kyle McFazdean and - after a few seconds of deliberation - pointed to the spot. Admittedly, appeals had been in short supply but North End will have felt they were more than due a call in their favour. Browne stepped up and slammed home from 12 yards, to fire Preston ahead and send them in at the break in front.
Mark Robins rung the changes at half time and made a couple more on the hour mark, with the Sky Blues flying out after the interval in pursuit of a leveller. The contest became stretched, with odds of it finishing 2-1 to the hosts appearing extremely thin. There was space for North End to exploit at the other end and the next goal was going to be crucial. And, having weathered the post-half time storm from Coventry, Preston started to ask questions once more and grabbed their third goal 20 minutes from time. Millar shifted the ball on to his right foot and landed the inswinging cross on a plate for Milutin Osmajic to power home his header.
The Montenegrin’s third goal in Preston colours - in front of the Alan Kelly Town End again - looked to have knocked the stuffing out of the visitors. But, Robins’ men did not reach Wembley last season by giving up easily and the clash was swung right back open on 83 minutes - when Wright pounced on another Woodman save and slotted home on the rebound, this time from slightly further out. Preston’s hearts had been crushed in the 96th minute a few weeks ago and Lowe’s men had six minutes of additional time to see through once again. This time, they would get the job done despite a barrage of long throws and a touch too many nervy moments. Nonetheless, a much needed three points, to get PNE back on track after a tough period.
Attendance: 16,716 (2,982 away)
PNE XI: Woodman; Storey, Lindsay, Best (Brady 77’), Potts, Whiteman, Browne (c), Millar, Holmes (Woodburn 85’), Frokjaer (Evans 68’), Osmajic (Keane 85’)
PNE unused subs: Cornell, Bauer, Ledson, Mawene, Stewart