Verdict - Preston North End were shambolic against Norwich City and there are more questions than answers
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It is difficult to find a place to start to analyse and disect what went wrong for PNE on the day but one thing is for sure, Norwich enjoyed their day out. Teemu Pukki scored their opening goal just 13 minutes into the game and Kieran Dowell quickly made it 2-0 three minutes later.
On the 28th minute Dowell netted his second, provided by Pukki, before the Finland international bagged himself another and City’s final goal of the aftenoon.
In truth, it was only four, it could have easily have been more. Freddie Woodman did well on a number of occasions to keep the ball out and Norwich’s finishing could have been better still on the day, despite netting four times.
Pukki was very good on the day. He has had some tough games against North End where for all money he looked likely to take home the match ball but couldn’t even score once, on Saturday he was too much for North End to handle.
His intelligence in the final is probably unmatched across the whole division, the timing of his runs, the underestimated pace in which he covers the ground and the clarity he has when in front of goal. It is something PNE can only dream of and something they certainly can’t afford.
He was rightly applauded by the home fans as he went down the tunnel after the game, there is no shame in appreciating a fine forward display even if it does come against your side. He was a cut above anything that PNE could put forward and it is the kind of quality that you need if you have realistic ambitions to push for promotion.
Meanwhile it was a significant day for three of PNE’s strikers. They were coincidentally also the only three positives of the day, named Tom Cannon, Liam Delap and Troy Parrott.
Neither of the first two could be blamed for what they stepped into, that level of abject performance is something that has been around in PR1 here and there for some time so their inclusion in it is nothing to brand them with.
They did however show signs that they could be two good additions to the squad. A downside to their games was that both should have scored in the match but hopefully that cutting edge is found quickly and they can build on a bright showing at Deepdale.
Parrott’s brief cameo off the bench got few mentions after the game but his intelligent runs in behind is the closest thing PNE have to the likes of Pukki and spending three months on the sideline during a loan move immediately after scoring your first league goal for the club will have been tough. His return bolsters Lowe’s attacking options and if the three can find form at the same time it gives good firepower.
After the game, Lowe was praising of his two new loanees, and the return of Parrott but he also raised eyebrows as he stood by his decision to change shape. He will be one of very few after the game that didn’t think inexplicably changing his shape after finally getting a relatively convincing home win was a good idea.
For a manager that has in the past stuck so steadfast with his 3-5-2 system, and built his squad around it, it was surprising to see him change to a 4-4-2 against Norwich. He described it more as a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 from the off but I’m not sure having Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne intended as wingers really strengthens the case for the switch, so 4-4-2 is probably the best way to refer to it.
It just didn’t work. There is no other way to reflect on the game but to say the change in formation was detrimental to PNE’s chances of winning the game, which lasted 16 minutes.
Lowe wanted to switch to four at the back, and seemed keen to bring in Jordan Storey, but also did not want to drop Bambo Diaby due to his good form. So he didn’t. Instead he started at right back.
We have seen before that even moving Liam Lindsay from his usual spot in the middle of a back three to the left of it can cause disruption in what otherwise would be the usual setup, moving the whole backline around caused bedlam.
It was very much putting square pegs in round holes to prevent dropping senior players or players in form, or at least that seemed to be the way it panned out.
Alvaro Fernandez is often one of few in the North End side keen to carry the ball forward with intent and looking to inject some life into things, he was on the bench apparently by choice to put one of the best left sided centre halves in the league at left back and a hot and cold, this season, central midfielder on the left.
PNE were camped at the edge of their own box with no idea what to do or how to get out. They had no previous patterns of play to call back on, not even a previous spell in a game where they had played that formation and they were up against one of the best attacks in the league.
There are more questions than answers coming out of that game, when Lowe had just got added firepower and a home win why change things up? Why disrupt? Why not back his side rather than changing to nullify Norwich? Preston wanted to be more compact but switched away from a formation where they conceded four times in 12 games to start the season.
Cannon and Delap looked bright in the 3-5-2 Lowe did revert back to after half an hour, but it could have been so much better if North End were still in the game and the Canaries were not absolutely flying at that point.
At least for them, the only way is up, although PNE are currently sliding down the table again. Still, they’re away next week, and they’re very good away.