Preston North End will keep fighting until the last as two moments decide Lancashire derby against Blackburn Rovers

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Preston North End secured a last-gasp points on Saturday in a barnstorming Lancashire derby against Blackburn Rovers as the game ended 1-1.

The game was given its own slot, 5:30pm, to be shown on Sky Sports and it did not disappoint. Though there wasn't a bucket load of goals on the night, there was plenty to enjoy, particularly for a neutral.

For those of a PNE or Blackburn persuasion, it was an evening fizzing with nerves and excitement – and fear – as both sides’ seasons were on the line.

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Sammie Szmodics opened the scoring with just under 10 minutes to go in the game but not knowing when they’re beat, North End dug in to salvage a point thanks to Dominic Hyam who turned the ball into his own net after Liam Delap’s cross.

It does not tell the full story though, with two Rovers goals disallowed – one more controversial than the other – and a huge chance for the visitors to secure all three points before the Lilywhites went straight up the other end to get a share of the spoils.

Ryan Lowe’s side could count themselves a bit unlucky to be going in at the break level, they had been the better side in the first half. Although they didn’t have loads of clear cut opportunities, it certainly felt like they occupied the better territory and their midfield was getting on top of Rovers’, their defence also winning their battles. But for a disallowed goal for the visitors, where PNE’s defence stopped knowing the flag was imminent, there was little threat.

It forced Jon Dahl Tomasson into a change, former PNE man Tyrhys Dolan one of two changes, the other winger on the other side Sorba Thomas also heading for an early bath.

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Ben Brereton-Diaz and Ryan Hedges found more joy for the visitors but North End did also tire as the game wore on. In truth, by the hour mark there were a number of PNE player who looked to be flagging. Lowe spoke after the game about them being in ‘red zones’ which means they’re at higher fatigue levels and also at higher risk of picking up injury.

Blackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-Costello is tackled by Preston North End's Alvaro FernandezBlackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-Costello is tackled by Preston North End's Alvaro Fernandez
Blackburn Rovers' Joseph Rankin-Costello is tackled by Preston North End's Alvaro Fernandez

Preston have struggled with a few injuries of late and have relied on a few usual suspects to get them through, so on that front in can be forgiven. Regardless of their condition, however, the home side kept going, they kept fighting and they kept defending.

They were under the cosh for the most part in the second half and if they deserved a goal in the first half, Blackburn did in the second. Rovers thought they were ahead on the hour mark, Szmodics diving in behind the Preston defence to blatantly handle the ball into the net and then having the gall to wheel away in celebration – and then complain to referee Rob Jones for his correct decision and booking.

Thankfully for North End, the officials saw it. Be it Jones or assistant Constantine Hatzidakis – most recently in the headlines for supposedly elbowing Liverpool’s Andy Robertson – it was good work and contributed massively to a fair result on the day.

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Tomasson post match was full of praise for them too, recently aggrieved by a handball decision against Coventry City that saw his side surrender a point as the Sky Blues’ goalkeeper scored.

Preston North End's Liam Delap celebrates his side’s later equaliserPreston North End's Liam Delap celebrates his side’s later equaliser
Preston North End's Liam Delap celebrates his side’s later equaliser

We avoided a Hand of Szmod situation – a phrase unashamedly stolen from Twitter – but the former Posh man would still get himself on the scoresheet.

Lowe had not long since switched to a back four and Szmodics was played in behind the defence, checking back onto his favoured right foot to perfectly place the ball in the far corner. He was allowed inside too easily by Andrew Hughes who had to make sure he stayed on his weaker side, but it is a good finish all the same.

Blackburn from that point were managing the game well. They were the better side in the second half so it would take a bit of grit, and a bit of luck, for PNE to get something from the game and they got both.

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First, the luck. Hedges had a golden opportunity to take the game away from Preston but when faced with a one on one with Freddie Woodman he got clever. He tried to chip the North End ‘keeper and saw his tame effort just loft into Woodman’s chest. He then booted the ball up field, Delap profited from Scott Wharton’s slip and it was 1-1.

A pulsating derby decided in mere moments.

Credit to North End, like they did against Reading, they kept going to the very end and they got their rewards. This is as honest and hard-working a group of players you can find, so with two games to go and even slim hope of a top six place you just can’t put it past them somehow pulling it out of the bag. Whether they will or not, we will see. It is out of their hands, but they’ll give it their best shot.

One player that deserves an individual mention is Patrick Bauer, who came in from the cold on Saturday. The German is popular amongst supporters and there have been plenty of calls throughout the season for the ‘BFG’ to be more actively involved in the side.

It hasn’t panned out that way and he came in for only his second league start of the season against Rovers. Given that it was his first start since September, and only third in total this campaign, he was magnificent. He only last an hour as he began to cramp up but it’s nice to see someone like him who has been made to wait, through little fault of his own at times, come in and do a job for the team.

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It looks like it’s his spot to lose now going into the last two games, two huge games against Sheffield United and Sunderland. The Blades could be promoted in midweek, which of course leads to the ‘on the beach’ hopes, but regardless they will be a tough side at a place North End don’t historically travel well to.

It’s all to play for, two to go, six points needed.