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Read Dave Seddon’s verdict on PNE’s disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Ipswich Town

Preston North End's Billy Bodin gets a shot on goal
Preston North End's Billy Bodin gets a shot on goal

Sometimes in football we fall into the trap of being too black and white with our analysis, ignoring any grey areas.

A team wins and they are world beaters, lose and you chuck them into the panel beaters category.

Often, it is not quite that straight forward with other factors coming into play and needing consideration.

However, Preston’s loss to Ipswich was not one of those occasions.

Let’s be clear about it, the Lilywhites were dreadful and the Tractor Boys trundled back to Suffolk towing three well-deserved points in their trailer.

Arguably this was their poorest performance of the season – scrub the arguably, it was the worst.

The fact that defeats in the Championship have been rare this season – this was only the seventh overall with four of them coming in a row when the defence was crippled by injuries – is probably why it came as a shock to the system.

North End’s performance was chalk and cheese to those produced in the previous two matches against Wolves and Aston Villa.

The energy put into those meetings with the pair of West Midlands high-fliers could well have been a contributory factor to Saturday’s no-show.

Alex Neil was certainly of that view, suggesting that his side were drained of energy by the effort put into achieving the 1-1 draws.

It was hard to disagree with his view point and maybe his mistake was sticking with 10 of the starters from Villa.

Ironically, the one player to change from the starting XI at Villa Park, Calum Woods, was substituted 37 minutes into this one.

Him and Callum Robinson got hooked in a double swap, that the first of many changes of approach Neil went for as the contest wore on.

Switches of systems and personnel were tried, the PNE boss even resorting to the age old tactic of throwing the big centre-half up field to play as a makeshift striker.

Nothing worked, with Neil admitting as much as he gave an honest assessment of a poor day at the office.

The result was not all down to the shortcomings of Preston.

Ipswich’s performance was textbook away day.

Sensing that their hosts were not at the races, they stepped on the front foot early doors and caused all kinds of problems.

Mustapha Carayol only lasted for 45 minutes due to him having been consigned to the bathroom for much of the week by a stomach bug, but that was enough time to inflict the necessary damage on North End.

He scored what proved to be the winner having been denied earlier by a fine save from Declan Rudd.

Carayol also set-up a couple of other chances which could have seen the visitors out of sight by the interval.

With him sat on the bench for the second half, Ipswich dug in and threw up a blue wall to stifle Preston.

The hosts were restricted to half chances, partly by the resilience of the visitors and partly by their own lack of craft.

Trying to hit Louis Moult with the high ball was never going to work, Ipswich’s trio of centre-backs having a field day.

While teeth were gnashed and keyboards hammered post-match, a bit of context is needed.

This was only PNE’s second league defeat in 18 games and a first since New Year’s Day.

The top six remains in reach, however much of a missed opportunity this was.

But days like the one Preston endured on Saturday have to be few and far between.

Let us not go down the road of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

This group of players is good enough to challenge for the play-offs.

There is no guarantee they will be in the top six come May 6 but it won’t be for the want of trying.

Bristol City, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Brentford who are in and around PNE, all failed to win over the weekend.

Are others better placed to claim a play-off place? Maybe from a budget point of view but not based on results in the way they are all bunching up together.

North End went 4-4-2 for this one as they had done at Villa Park, Neil feeling such a good performance deserved rewarding with another start.

Ipswich served notice of what was to come when they had a great opening in the eighth minute.

Counter-attacking at speed after clearing a corner, the ball was worked to Carayol who cut into the box and saw his shot parried by Rudd – when the rebound eventually bounced back into his path, Carayol poked it wide.

Robinson appealed for a penalty on the strength of having Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arms wrapped around him as he tried to meet Ben Pearson’s low cross.

The contest’s only goal came in the 22nd minute, Cole Skuse hooking a ball down the Ipswich left channel.

Woods looked favourite to clear but hesitated, CARAYOL nodding it past him, moving into the box and opening-up his body and steering a shot past Rudd.

After Carayol had skinned Woods to set up a chance for Martyn Waghorn which Greg Cunningham blocked well and then Dominic Iorfa hit the bar at the end of a move which had its origins on Ipswich’s left, Woods was substituted along with Robinson.

While it was hard to argue with Woods being taken off, I thought Robinson getting the hook was a touch premature.

Neil switched to 4-2-3-1, Josh Harrop going into the No.10 role behind Moult.

Cunningham switched over to right-back with Josh Earl coming on at left-back.

The pair were to swap over later but whoever played there meant there was a left-footed player at right-back, behind the left-footed Billy Bodin.

PNE were later to go to three at the back, Huntington moved up front to provide an aerial threat.

But the service was lacking as it had been all afternoon, the home side rarely a threat.

In the end, little ground was lost in terms of a push for the play-offs, this one perhaps Preston got away with. But this has to be a one-off.