SEAN GREGAN'S EXCLUSIVE COLUMN
It was like 1999 again as Preston ran Arsenal so close in the FA Cup but were ultimately left empty-handed.
To be fair, North End pushed the Gunners much closer than we had done 18 years ago and it was so cruel to see the Premier League score an 89th minute winner.
I think Preston should be pleased with the way they took the game to Arsenal in the first half.
What Simon Grayson had to weigh-up in the build-up was whether to go and attack them or sit off and defend.
Their attacking play in the first half was excellent and they should have been further ahead than 1-0 at half-time.
I see that they didn’t jump on Deepdale Duck this time to celebrate – I don’t think he’s properly recovered from Kurt Nogan and myself squashing him in ‘99!
Arsenal scoring very early in the second half was key and they got stronger as the game went on. It would have been great had North End held out for a 1-1 draw, got a money-spinning replay and the chance to play at the Emirates Stadium,
They deserved that chance but it wasn’t to be.
Good sides like Arsenal keep going right until the end, they don’t know when they are beaten.
You only had to look back to last Tuesday night when they were 3-0 down against Bournemouth but ended-up drawing 3-3.
The PNE players need to take heart from Saturday’s performance and produce similar in their Championship games.
That is the challenge for them, don’t just do it against Arsenal, do it on a regular basis in the league.
They have shown what can be done, set the standard.
The next game is against Brighton at Deepdale and that will be a tough one with Chris Hughton’s side top of the table.
I noticed Arsenal made a few changes against North End, although it was still a very recognisable team.
However, there were teams who made far more changes and that is a bit disappointing.
We seemed to have got away from a spell when clubs were making wholesale changes in the FA Cup – a bit like they do in the League Cup.
But things seem to be going back to big changes which is a shame because the FA Cup is a great competition.
I understand that for some clubs, just staying in the Premier League is the priority.
But Hull City’s crowd was 68% down on their average league attendance, while the Sunderland versus Burnley clash saw the Stadium of Light quite empty.
Money is tight for fans at the best of times, not least just after Christmas.
Fielding weakened teams isn’t going to attract people through the turnstiles.
On the transfer front, it was sad to see Bailey Wright leave Preston and join Bristol City last week.
It was a bit of a strange one for me, with the Robins being in the same division as PNE and below them in the table.
There was this debate when David Healy left Preston a few years ago to join Leeds, a club in the same division.
I had always taken the view that I would only leave North End for a club higher up and that is what I did with West Brom being in the Premier League.
With Wright, maybe Lee Johnson sold the club to him with their stadium redevelopment and the plans for the future.
Wright seemingly made it clear that he wasn’t going to sign a new contract which meant Preston never got the chance to negotiate fresh terms with him.