Sunderland 0-2 Preston North End: Five things we learned

Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp claims the ball under pressure.
Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp claims the ball under pressure.

There were plenty of talking points after PNE’s comfortable win at Sunderland on Saturday.

Alex Neil’s men closed to within two points of the play-off places as Sean Maguire continued his hot streak in front of goal.

PNE boss Alex Neil.

PNE boss Alex Neil.

MATCH REPORT: Sunderland 0-2 PNE

HOW THEY RATED: Who impressed for PNE in their win at Sunderland?

Play-off race is opening up

Middlesbrough’s draw at Brentford and Derby’s game with Cardiff being postponed means things are looking good for PNE in the play-off race heading into the international break. The Lilywhites are just two points shy of both the Rams and Boro in fifth and sixth respectively. For so long it looked like there would be only one place in the top six up for grabs but there might well be two. North End have some fierce competition though with Bristol City one place and one point above them in seventh, Sheffield United also on 60 points and Millwall just two further back. With eight games to go it is certainly all to play for.

PNE fans celebrate the win at the Stadium of Light.

PNE fans celebrate the win at the Stadium of Light.

Away days are the stuff of dreams

Apart from the snow, and the problematic journeys plenty had to and from the North East, PNE’s travelling fans are certainly enjoying themselves on the road. Victory at the Stadium of Light made it 11 unbeaten away from Deepdale. In total it is eight wins, eight draws and just three defeats on their travels for PNE this season, compared with seven victories, seven draws and five reverses at home. This side certainly seems to enjoy playing on the road and may even be better set-up to break on teams, even if that wasn’t the case against a Sunderland side happy to sit in on Saturday. Neil will hope his side’s fine away form continues when they return to action at Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday.

Seani’s too hot to handle

Whichever way you look at it, Sean Maguire can do no wrong at the moment. Five in four since his return from injury, seven in his last seven games or being involved in 12 goals in his last 15 league appearances, the stats simply don’t lie. In truth, this wasn’t an afternoon where Ireland’s great hope tore Sunderland apart from the off. He had a relatively quiet first period before enjoying himself in the second half when switched to the left with Callum Robinson moving inside. Maguire then did what he does best and took the chance that came his way with a diving header from Paul Gallagher’s centre. The best news for PNE fans is that Neil admitted post-match that he thinks the best is still very much to come from his star striker.

Sean Maguire in action against Sunderland.

Sean Maguire in action against Sunderland.

Neil has two top keepers to choose from

Chris Maxwell was handed an unexpected recall for the trip to the North East with Declan Rudd by his partner’s side for the birth of son Luca. The game served as a reminder that despite the Welshmen losing his place in recent weeks, Neil has two very good goalkeepers at his disposal. Maxwell made one crucial early save from Joel Asoro and then did everything that was asked of him in difficult conditions, the swirling wind and occasional blizzards far from ideal for goalkeepers. Yes, there are far more difficult games to come in to but this will certainly send Maxwell off on Wales duty in good heart.

Sunderland are heading for League One

The Stadium of Light isn’t a nice place to be at the moment. Defeat to PNE left the Black Cats five points adrift of safety at the bottom and staring at back-to-back relegations. Chris Coleman’s struggles have shown just what a tough job Simon Grayson elected to take when he left Deepdale last summer. The boos started with the first mis-placed pass in the opening moments with a half-empty stadium rightly showing their anger at an abject display that made it 10 games without a win. Sunderland were in the game in the first half but folded after Sean Maguire’s goal with Jake Clarke-Salter needlessly seeing red. It’s a shocking state of affairs for a club of that magnitude.

A half-empty Stadium of Light saw Sunderland slip to another defeat in the snow.

A half-empty Stadium of Light saw Sunderland slip to another defeat in the snow.