Dave Seddon's big match verdict
Slow starters Preston need to find their match legs from the word go in order to get their league campaign up and running.
For a second Championship Saturday in a row, they only came to life in the second half and were left with nothing to show for their efforts.
Reading dominated for 45 minutes on the opening day and although Fulham did not quite match that control this weekend, they were much the better side for the first half at Deepdale.
North End had to chase the game from the 33rd minute, Sone Aluko taking advantage of the hosts not clearing their lines after a corner to give the visitors the lead.
You could say they chased it quite well after the interval but were always vulnerable to the counter-attack – a tactic well used in this division.
So it proved as Fulham hit a second on the break, leaving PNE with a mountain to climb. Something of a collector’s item – a diving header from Callum Robinson – halved the deficit and gave them hope.
Injustice then came North End’s way late on as Jermaine Beckford’s header was ruled out for offside.
In real time, Beckford looked onside as he netted from Tom Clarke knock back.
Those who saw the replay from different angles, were adamant too that the goal should have stood.
The fact Clarke angled his header backwards in the direction of Beckford, meant it was not offside.
Saying that, had Preston been better earlier on, they might not have needed to be arguing their case.
While no team fully hits the straps straight away, from what I have seen in the first two league games, PNE do look under-cooked.
It could be a case of Simon Grayson not having found his best XI yet.
Having started with a 3-5-2 against Reading, he switched to 4-4-2 at half-time in that game and has subsequently played that way in the cup win over Hartlepool and when facing Fulham.
In effect it has been four central midfielders strung out across the middle and it did not quite work against the Cottagers.
Paul Gallagher and Ben Pringle – facing his old club – were in wide areas, with Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne central.
Maybe it needs more bite in there in the shape of Ben Pearson or John Welsh?
Neither made the squad on Saturday but that could well change for Derby’s visit on Tuesday night.
Preston got more joy with the addition of some width to the midfield, in the shape of Robinson.
It gave them some pace on the left, with the right side getting some fresh energy later on with the arrival from the bench of Chris Humphrey at right-back.
North End’s rally in the last 20 minutes or so was promising but it needs much more from the start – not just a reaction to going behind.
Grayson said: “In the first half we knew Fulham would try and hit us on the counter attack.
“We had to be careful of Aluko and their two wide players.
“Fulham kept the ball well with the experience of Scott Parker and Kevin McDonald.
“We didn’t really get to grips with that.
“When we got the ball back, we didn’t take care of it enough. Our short passing wasn’t crisp enough at times.
“We sometimes put the ball in the box when we shouldn’t have done because we didn’t have enough bodies in there,
“It was disappointing but at least there was a reaction in the second half.
“We have to start the game better, be positive and get on the front foot, play a crisper passing game which I know we can do.
“I have seen that from us in training and I want to see us take those performances in training into a game.”
Fulham have re-shaped themselves to counter the loss of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele.
They were strong at the back, with McDonald and Parker providing a shield in front of the back four.
Much of their creativity came from Tom Crainey, an example being his run which led to the second goal – one it has to be said, should have been stopped in its tracks.
Up front, Aluko played off big striker Matt Smith.
Tasked with keeping a grip on those two were Bailey Wright and Tom Clarke.
A quicker than expected recovery from a hamstring twinge saw Clarke restored to the side at the expense of Paul Huntington.
Fulham were on top when they took a 33rd-minute lead, a clearance by Browne from a corner cannoning off Smith and deflecting across the face of goal to ALUKO to head in.
Their advantage doubled in the 67th minute, North End having started the second half with far more purpose.
So it came as a huge blow when Cairney ran from his own half without a proper challenge going in on him, the midfielder playing in Smith whose first shot was blocked by Anders Lindegaard.
The rebound came straight back to him, SMITH making no mistake a second time.
Cue a double change from PNE, with both subs making a quick impact.
Liam Grimshaw’s pass sent Beckford clear down the right-hand side of the box, his cross met by ROBINSON who directed a diving header into the roof of the net.
It ultimately served only as a consolation, unluckily you might say bearing in mind the disallowed Beckford effort.
Although only two league games in, the pressure is on to get something on the board in the Derby game and get the season going properly.