Reporter Adam Lord takes a closer look at North End’s victory at the Championship’s bottom side on Saturday.
North End can strike a good balance without midfield battler
The main dilemma pre-match for Preston North End was the lack of an obvious holding midfield player. With Ben Pearson and Alan Browne suspended and John Welsh injured the decision was made to go with Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson in the middle. The former was give more of a sitting role with Johnson allowed to break forward which he did to great effect. Ben Pringle, against his former club, and the retuning Aiden McGeady, slotted in down either side and with Callum Robinson roaming in behind the front PNE caused Rotherham problems all afternoon without compromising themselves going in the other direction. The balance looked good but it’s worth bearing in mind North End will face much sterner tests this season.
McGeady return a welcome one
It was a real fight for man of the match honours but Aiden McGeady was excellent on his return to the side. Rotherham right back Darnell Fisher will hope he never sees the former Celtic star again the amount of times he was twisted and turned in different directions. McGeady does offer PNE something a little different, and after period on the sidelines the visiting fans to the New York Stadium were reminded of his real skill on the ball which allows him to create something out of nothing. He had one assist on the day but could have had more. Along with Robinson and Johnson the trio caused real problems from the opening minutes of the game, interchanging in what was a fluid attacking line-up behind first Jordan Hugill and later SImon Makienok.
PNE look a real threat on the counter
Having dictated the play for long periods before the interval, enjoying long periods of possession thanks to what was at times charitable pressing from the hosts, it was PNE’s counter attacking that became the order of the day in the second half. Rotherham enjoyed a decent spell of pressure as they looked for a way back into the game, Richard Wood’s header the culmination of that. But with the home side taking more chances gaps opened up at the back and PNE looked to profit. Makienok played a vital role at both ends, heading clear the bombardment of long throws from Greg Halford while also holding the ball up well as others did the running. Johnson, Robinson and McGeady all ran expertly with the ball at their feet and there was plenty of pace, power and trickery on show. The promise on the break was finished off in style with Marnick Vermijl’s goal, the Belgian converting Johnson’s cross at the back post to seal the points.
Killer touch still lacking at times
This was both a solid defensive display, Tom Clarke particularly impressing as he led from the front, and one where PNE looked a threat going forwards from start to finish. If there is to be one criticism on Saturday though it was that Simon Grayson’s men didn’t have the points wrapped up sooner. Robinson had already missed a golden chance early on before two goals in five first-half minutes put them in command. The key period came just before Rotherham’s goal in the second half however with Robinson, McGeady and Makienok all having chances to seal the victory with time to spare. As it was Wood got the goal back and things looked like they could be heading for a nervy conclusion. Vermijl of course popped up to make sure that wasn’t the case but it could have been an even smoother ride for North End.
Rotherham’s struggles show no sign of ending
In the last couple ‘five things’ pieces it’s been noted how Newcastle look set for promotion. Sadly, on Saturday’s evidence it looks like Rotherham might be heading in the opposite direction. Defeat to North End means just three games into his reign Kenny Jackett’s Millers are eight points adrift of safety. Low on confidence they afforded PNE far too much respect in the opening period and gave themselves too much to do. They battled back well of times but there looks to be a lack of the required quality to compete in the Championship. For Preston it looks to be the opposite, as more than 1,500 visiting fans could revel in their side moving up to 11th in the second tier and just three points off the play-offs.