Supporters have their say on North End’s last-gasp win over Cardiff
It was Noswaith dda Croeso i Cymru or good evening and welcome to Wales for the the travelling faithful who crossed over the River Severn having battled through adverse weather conditions and a succession of road works to watch their team in the last game of 2017.
The game was very tight with few clear cut chances but when Tom Clarke stooped to head in a last minute goal it produced our first win in South Wales for 13 years.
In the pub before the game, a 74-year-old woman had not much confidence in her team winning and warned me not to leave the plush relatively new Cardiff Stadium before the end as her side had a habit of conceding late goals.
This prophecy came true much to the delight of both players and fans who celebrated together as if they had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final having extended our unbeaten run to nine games.
Although Daryl Horgan had a decent game and was unlucky to be substituted a trademark double switch from Alex Neil shortly after the half hour mark altered our formation.
The introduction of the creative Harrop and the pace of Robinson exposed a vulnerability at the back of a tiring Cardiff defence and gave our attacking options more direction as we pressed a lot more, looking the more likely team to score and end the dour stalemate as the game entered its closing stages.
The win put us in touching distance of the play offs, closing the gap on the Welshmen to seven points which could have been 13 had the result gone the other way.
Man of the match for me was Jordan Hugill who battled throughout the game using his imposing physique like a boyo from the Welsh front row much to the derision of the home fans who after the game trudged through the narrow streets near the ground looking dejected.
Meanwhile our hardy fans were singing in the freezing rain celebrating a first double of the season saying hwyl fawr am nawr to Cardiff or goodbye for now and see you in the play-offs maybe.
North End finished the year as they started it with a 1-0 away win and the winning goal scored by Tom Clarke.
The skipper has pretty much been to hell and back with his injury in 2017 but on Friday evening, in the Principality, the ever popular Clarke was rightly crowned The Prince of Wales by the 372 North End fans who had made the long haul on a Friday evening.
They backed the team superbly throughout the game. No doubt there was much jubilation in the hostelries of Preston and surrounding areas and perhaps a glass or two was also raised in places as far apart as Bristol and Wolverhampton.
North End certainly had the better of the game which at times got scrappy but just had one golden chance to clinch the points which the North End skipper took with aplomb.North End made much the better start to the game and with Alex Neil choosing his preferred 4-2-3-1 it was Paul Gallagher and Ben Pearson who were dictating the game in the centre of the park.
In fact our domination for 35 minutes of this game was probably due to winning the battle in the middle even if the final ball left a little bit to be desired. North End seemed to want to walk the ball into the net and even at set pieces our play was slightly below standard.
Nevertheless we had enough of the ball to have had more to show at the interval than just being level although the home side did have some possession in the Preston half of the field in the minutes leading up the break.
You always feared the sucker punch but we defended superbly once again on the evening with a returning Greg Cunningham giving some physical strength to the North End left hand side.
The second half was a more even affair in terms of possession but for periods of the second half the game got a little scrappy due in no uncertain terms to Cardiff being very nervous and trying to force the issue with plenty of long balls.
North End too went direct on several occasions but I thought we always looked the more likely to score even though Cardiff had plenty of set pieces which was undoubtedly the Bluebirds strong suit.
Alex Neil once again introduced Harrop and Robinson, who replaced Gallagher and Horgan, and with 10 minutes to go swapped an understandably tiring Greg Cunningham for Calum Woods and a pair of fresh legs.
With 89 minutes on the clock North End got a corner on the right and when Huntington’s header came back off the keeper, Clarke was there to nod the ball into the net and send the travelling fans wild with delight and a trip back up the M5 with the three points.
You can’t help but have a little chuckle at Neil Warnock and his comments after the game at Deepdale which went along the lines of he couldn’t wait to get us back to Cardiff. Well Neil we came to Cardiff and as the Romans so eloquently put it Veni Vidi Vici.
The result completes an excellent December for North End with a total of 14 points being won from a maximum of 18 with four wins, two draws and no defeats. It cannot be a coincidence that getting players back into the squad and the team has coincided with this nine game unbeaten run and a huge upturn in form. Middlesbrough come to Deepdale on New Year’s Day and what a mouthwatering fixture that now looks as the race for the Championship play-offs really begins to hot up.