Adam Lord's Preston North End verdict: Same old story on the road as Lilywhites go down at Derby
Here we go again. After defeat at Norwich, Preston fans will have hoped for a different story on making the shorter journey to Pride Park on Saturday.
But having seen their side toil in front of goal for large parts of the first few weeks of the new campaign this was simply a case of rinse and repeat.
At Carrow Road on Wednesday night, North End shipped a goal during their best spell of the match as two late sucker-punches saw them go down 2-0 in Norfolk.
Against Frank Lampard’s Rams, the Lilywhites grew into the game.
A slick move just before the half-hour mark ended with Josh Harrop pulling the ball back for Callum Robinson, who saw his effort saved.
With the chance gone an-all-too familiar sequence of events then followed.
Sure enough as PNE continued to press, the hosts hit them on the counter 38 minutes in, David Nugent squaring the ball for Mason Mount to fire under Declan Rudd who should have done better.
Sadly, given their record in front of goal, all who had watched Preston in recent weeks knew they would be right up against from that point on.
That proved to be the case with Richard Keogh’s header from Mount’s corner, which Rudd again will not look back on with great fondness, making sure of a home win 12 minutes from the end.
Same story, same scoreline, same sinking feeling.
It all meant that Alex Neil’s side are still looking for their first goal or point on the road this season and have scored just once from open play in five league games.
Having spoken about the need for striking reinforcements throughout the window it feels like a big few days before it shuts for good at 5pm on Friday.
Neil, never one to divulge much when it comes to transfers, said it was a case of “wait and see” post-match.
Fans will be waiting with baited breath, that is for sure, hoping their beleaguered attack gets some help before Bolton’s visit on Saturday.
It is early days but by the admission of both manager and players, North End are already slipping into catch-up mode heading into the first international break of the campaign.
In the East Midlands there were a few mitigating circumstances.
Alan Browne and Tom Clarke joined the absentee list when the teamsheets were produced at 2pm, Neil hoping neither is out in the long term.
But with the duo missing at Pride Park that meant North End fielded a squad without Browne, Clarke, Paul Gallagher, Sean Maguire and Bllly Bodin.
In the days before the season began few would have predicted that would come to pass before the end of August.
We are not quite in the realms of the defensive injury crisis that resulted in four straight defeats last October and November.
But any team would feel the difference at not having that number of key players at their disposal. It meant there was another full Championship debut on show at Pride Park.
Ryan Ledson came in and showed what he is about but as the game progressed it turned into a tough game for the former Oxford man to make his second-tier bow in.
Ben Davies was also recalled at the heart of the defence, having been left out against Norwich, while further forward Graham Burke and Josh Harrop got the nod.
The former was unlucky to lose his place against Norwich, a victim of the switch to 4-4-2, but struggled to make an impact against Lampard’s side, he one of several guilty of squandering chances to deliver the ball into dangerous areas.
Harrop looked the most likely to unlock the door for PNE when they were in the ascendancy.
He provided the ball for Robinson in what turned out to be a crucial chance and generally was at the heart of what good football North End did produce in that opening 40 minutes.
Further forwards, Lukas Nmecha was given the task of leading the line.
Injuries mean the Manchester City prospect is having to learn on the job and at the moment it is showing.
There have been hints of the pace and power he has at his disposal but his decision making in the cut and thrust of the Championship was again found wanting. His arrival was heralded as a coup by most observers with much expected of a 19-year-old. That now appears a little unfair on the England Under-21s international.
He may need time but the reality is North End do not have that and need to get back in the habit of winning games sooner rather than later.
Nmecha did actually have the game’s first opening, his tame shot saved after good work from Robinson.
The PNE No.7 perhaps will feel he could have done more with his effort on 28 minutes.
But for large parts as good as North End looked pressing and making life difficult for Derby early on, they simply did not make it count in and around the box.
There was almost a sense of inevitability about the Rams getting their noses in front, Nugent finding Mount with the Chelsea youngster showing great composure before his shot squirmed beneath Rudd’s dive. After the break Burke went close with a shot from just outside the area before Rudd denied Mason Bennett one-on-one.
Bennett again, and then Craig Bryson, went close for the hosts before Burke hooked PNE’s best opening of the second half wide on the turn.
It was always the hosts who looked the more likely to extend their advantage though.
That they did on 78 minutes, Keogh beating Huntington to head Mount’s corner home with the ball squeezing between Rudd and the post.
From then on the hosts threatened to turn the score ugly.
Keogh came close with a second header before Florian Jozefzoon curled a shot wide and, finally, Nugent nearly chipped Rudd from distance.
Had that effort dipped under the bar, it really would have capped a miserable few days. Plenty to ponder as we enter a big few days on and off the field.