Bristol City 0-1 Preston North End: Dave Seddon's big-match verdict as the Lilywhites' remarkable run against the Robins continues
It would be understandable if Bristol City boss Lee Johnson spent Saturday night sticking pins into an effigy of Preston North End.
Johnson must groan when he sees the Lilywhites coming up on the fixture list by reason of the remarkable hold they have on his Robins side.
Since the clubs resumed hostilities in late 2013 after a two-season break, North End are unbeaten in 11 meetings with the West Country outfit.
Victory on Saturday was the sixth on the bounce and Ashton Gate is a venue which very much suits – this was their fifth win there in a row.
Not too surprisingly, it was Callum Robinson who tucked away from the winner.
He has now scored five goals against City, including the winner in November 2014.
It is little wonder Johnson had described PNE as City’s bogey team in the build-up.
The run does pre-date Johnson’s time in charge at Ashton Gate, similarly Alex Neil only inherited Preston’s fondness for the red section of Bristol last season.
So an explanation for why things have been so one-sided cannot be found with these two bosses.
It is just one of those quirks of football, a habit which PNE want to maintain and one which hangs like a millstone at the moment around the necks of Johnson’s men.
Make no mistake, North End were fully deserving of this latest victory.
They counter-attacked with purpose, albeit not all the time with an end product, while the defensive solidity of last season returned.
The hosts had only one shot on target all afternoon, that a free-kick from former Preston man Josh Brownhill which Declan Rudd tipped over the bar.
Booing accompanied the final whistle from the three home stands – in contrast 566 travelling PNE supporters danced a jig of delight in the away end.
For whatever reason those fans had been forced to wait until the second weekend of November to witness an away win in the Championship this season.
Not since April 28 had they won on the road when points were at stake.
In the meantime, Preston had flipped over their fortunes.
Whereas last season they were tight defensively and relied on a goal or two to win games, this term they’ve been free-scoring but leaking at the back alarmingly.
Saturday was a return to last season, the defence strong as a unit and the attacking play done more often than not on the counter-attack.
It brought home the bacon and was to stretch the unbeaten run to a seventh game over the last six weeks.
PNE had not shouted their mouths off about their good record against City in the days leading up to the game.
Neil was to admit that it did get a mention privately and in some ways put the pressure on both teams.
The Scot said: “Bristol City would have been looking at it and thinking, ‘We need to end this hoodoo’.
“For us, we went into it thinking we seem to have their number, let’s do it again.
“That can bring its own pressure but we managed to do it.
“What I will say is that Bristol City are a good team.
“Lee sets them up well and they move the ball well.
“This was a hard-fought win and well deserved.”
All 11 Preston starters had good games, some standing out that little bit more.
Centre-halves Paul Huntington and Ben Davies were very good, Â£5.3m striker Famara Diedhiou getting little change out of the pair.
That was to the extent that his substitution was cheered, calls having been coming from the home fans for that change to be have been made much earlier.
At the other end of the pitch, Daniel Johnson, Sean Maguire and matchwinner Robinson in particular stood out in their performance.
Johnson got the No.10 role and playing that bit higher up the pitch suited him.
He played off Maguire and Robinson, who interchanged well – Maguire’s starting role was up front but he was quite happy to drift out to the left and allow Robinson to come into the middle.
This was Maguire’s best display by some distance since his return from injury.
It was about him holding the ball up when central, while most of the counter-attacking had the Irishman involved in a wider role.
The winning goal in the 35th minute came from such a position as Johnson fed a pass to Maguire just over the halfway line on the left.
He spun inside and played a fine cross-field ball from left to right to find the run of Tom Barkhuizen.
His low cross struck a City leg and bounced to Johnson who had by now got into the box. Johnson went down the side of the defence and pulled the ball across the six-yard box for Robinson to side-foot home from close range.
It was fitting that he should score on his 150th appearance in a Preston shirt.
Chances had come before and after the goal.
Johnson had been a coat or two of boot polish from connecting with a Maguire cross.
Maguire saw a header loop up and plucked out of the air by the City keeper, a move the striker had started by feeding a pass through to Robinson who provided the subsequent cross.
Early in the second half, Barkhuizen and Maguire were denied by defender’s blocks in the same scramble from a Robinson cross.
The one scare for Preston at the other end came in the 82nd minute after substitute Alan Browne had given away a free-kick 25 yards out.
Brownhill’s free-kick was tipped over by Rudd, the only shot on target he faced on his return to the side in place of Chris Maxwell.
The players left the pitch to the Wurzels’ ‘Blackbird’ song when terrace anthem, ‘Can we play you every week?’ would have been more appropriate.
With the away victory box finally ticked at the ninth time of asking, fingers crossed this is Preston up and running on their travels.
The signs are there that the season is grinding into life.