Plenty of tweets and bleeps on social media after this result but I think, first of all, we should just look at the game on its own and make a judgement on that.
North End didn’t play particularly badly and some might argue we slightly edged the first half. However the defensive frailties came back to haunt us after the break and even when we got level we could only manage three minutes before the Baggies were back in the lead. Two changes in personnel and another formation change did us no favours in my opinion, and I saw some senior players late in the game with that look of dejection in their eyes. This game was never going to be easy but 12 goals conceded in the last four league games sort of speaks for itself in terms of where our problems lie. The manager brought in Darnell Fisher and Ben Davies for Clarke and Barkhuizen and once again decided to play with wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation. I’m not sure it ultimately helped our cause because I don’t personally see Fisher and Hughes as wing-backs. Anyway we gave a very decent account of ourselves in parts during the first half with a Ledson shot hitting the foot of the post while at the other end Chris Maxwell made a superb save to keep out a header which looked goalbound all the way. There was plenty of effort in the first half with Pearson, Ledson and Browne getting through a ton of work in the middle of the park. The second period was just a couple of minutes old when we found ourselves one down to a Rodriguez header with the striker getting in front of the defender to give Maxwell no chance. North End had a penalty shout when Browne went down to a seemingly clumsy tackle. Four minutes later we were level via the left foot of Andrew Hughes and it was game on. It was soon game off again, though, as a desperately unlucky Ben Davies saw his header loop over Maxwell and into the far corner. North End were visibly shaken and when Gayle made it three near the end, that was that. Browne scored with a header right at the end but with less than 30 seconds left it was too little too late and North End were cut adrift at the bottom of the division. So here we are at the end of September with one win in 10 league games. To be fair to North End there has been some improvement since the return of Pearson but the juggling of the defence has left us all over the place and, currently, looking all over a team destined for relegation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are many different opinions on what the club should do next. In my opinion we should dismiss the “S” word for this week as I cannot see what good it would do. But if we lose at Villa on Tuesday and at home to Wigan next Saturday we may well be having a very different conversation in seven days’ time. Maybe Villa Park will be the place where the fightback begins and, for some, shades of 1964 with a Tony Singleton and an Alex Dawson to help us on our way.
Though it hasn’t felt like it this week has been international happiness at work week but having become “little Preston” once again in the eyes of local rivals Blackburn, Wigan and Bolton, who all sit higher up the table than us, a fourth consecutive league defeat won’t be bringing me much joy at the workplace this week either. Our performance in terms of effort and commitment was quite good, particularly in the first half when we were effective at stopping newly relegated Albion, who I think are probably the best team in the league. As the division’s top scorers they possess a dynamic strike force but in the first half both of their forwards were well marshalled by Ben Davies and league debutant Jordan Storey. And at half-time I was of the feeling that we could take something out of the game. I was not wearing short trousers and had probably not even been thought of the last time Albion won a league match at Deepdale in 1959, but after they upped the tempo immediately after the restart and scored, it always looked liked their 11-match winless sequence on our patch would end. Our lack of firepower up front, coupled with the conceding of another three goals, was once again our downfall. Our squad is good but we have been too complacent in the summer by not investing in a quality striker and we have struggled in the tough and unforgiving league of the Championship. The situation must be addressed in January – if it’s not too late by then. With the next batch of games after the Aston Villa game looking slightly easier, I will continue to keep the faith and hopefully not have to put up with the workplace jibes for much longer.
A second successive league match at Deepdale with the 3-2 scoreline in the visitors’ favour and the fourth defeat in a row in the current run. Yes, we were up against a side flooded with parachute payments and a squad more familiar to playing in the Premier League and yes, there were periods when we matched them well, especially in the first half. But – and it’s a big but – the lack of a keystone striker and the continuing fragility of the defence are sucking the confidence out of this North End team as they spiral into a losing mentality that we all know is difficult to break. Of course there is still time, but if this slide is not arrested soon it will inevitably become self-fulfilling and the dreaded ‘R’ word will be on everyone’s lips. A win, any win, and no matter how achieved is just what the doctor orders, with two matches remaining before the next international break. Away at Villa midweek looks highly unlikely, which leaves the derby next Saturday against Wigan. As a fan I will not care if we scrape a 1-0 in the 90th minute off somebody’s backside. The match itself provided a frustrating first half as we did not look out of place against our more illustrious visitors. The second half repeated the now familiar pattern of slack marking allowing Albion to take the lead in the opening few minutes. To the team’s credit they kept plugging away for what seemed an unlikely equaliser before Andrew Hughes curled a beauty of shot around the wall and into the corner of the ne. However, for the umpteenth time of late Preston proved to be incapable of holding the fort in the immediate aftermath, with an own goal conceded a mere two minutes later. A deflated North End were put further behind from a Dwight Gale free-kick in the closing stages, but still gave it a go late into to injury time which resulted in a headed goal by Alan Browne.