Preston North End pass biggest test yet at Stoke City and keep the buzz alive after deadline day

Preston North End's Will Keane (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal Preston North End's Will Keane (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Preston North End's Will Keane (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal | CameraSport - Andrew Kearns
PNE made it 13 points from 15 with Saturday’s 0-2 win at Stoke City - Will Keane scoring both goals at the bet365 Stadium

Enjoy every moment of this, because surely nobody expected to be here. There will be tough days to come for Preston North End this season, but the start has been sublime. And if you’d told any Lilywhites supporter they would be singing about being top of the league five games in, they’d have probably thought you were verging on insane.

The Lilywhites pulled up at a sun soaked Stoke feeling rather good, having picked up 10 points from their first four matches and secured two signings on transfer deadline day. The mood in the sold-out away end - which is perfectly placed to the right of the tunnel - was buoyant, with the pre-match buzz among the 2,000 travelling fans very much alive.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And yet, on paper this certainly looked like being PNE’s toughest test of the season yet - against an overhauled Stoke City side containing plenty of familiar faces and quality too. North End’s recent record at the bet365 Stadium is excellent, but Stoke have been a different animal on their own patch this season.

Preston, though, have a different edge about them too; a savvier, nastier yet simpler streak, you could say. And having withstood a spell of early Potters pressure, Ryan Lowe saw his team gradually gain territory and do all the things you would associate with an effective North End team on the road. Frustration started to creep in among the home support and Stoke were never allowed to find their flow.

North End, undoubtedly, will have been the more content team at the break. If the Lilywhites were going to take something back to Lancashire, you felt they had to play the match on their terms and turn the vast majority of the match into a battle. PNE are trying to play in the right areas, at the right times this season - that approach was clear to see once again.

At the break, Lowe introduced Duane Holmes - slightly unfortunate not to keep his place after last weekend’s display against Swansea City. Mads Frokjaer, on a booking, was the man to make way. A few eyebrows may have been raised at the Dane’s withdrawal, but the decision hadn’t half been justified by the time the clock reached 57 minutes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Holmes has been a constant, lively menace in Preston colours so far and it was his mazy run which saw Wouter Burger stick out a leg and invite contact inside the box. A penalty was awarded instantly and up stepped Will Keane, to drill the ball down the middle for his third goal of the season and spark wild scenes.

North End’s number seven - and the away end - had only just settled down before it was party time again. And for all of Preston’s grit and graft on the day, their second goal was so slick and sharp. Brad Potts tucked the ball in behind for the all-action Holmes to collect, before the American kept the coolest head of all to lay the ball on a plate for Keane to tap home. A classic bang bang; Stoke stunned and silenced.

There must have been a resentment about Alex Neil on the touch line at that point, even with more than half-an-hour to play. The Scot saw his Preston team manage these situations so well in his four-years at the Deepdale helm - and so many of the traits he instilled were on show, as North End saw the three more, priceless points over the line. The away end was a place of pure joy and jubilation post-match, as PNE headed into the international break on top spot: a start beyond their wildest dreams.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.