Dave Seddon's PNE Press View
I would say that Preston North End's results as a collective over Christmas could be put into the category of being '˜okay' and were perhaps 45 minutes of football away from being '˜very good'.
The four matches from December 23 to New Year’s Day resulted in a five-point haul with a win, two draws and a defeat.
A mixed bag yes, but that maybe did not tell the full story.
You could strongly argue the case that the Lilywhites deserved more out of Monday’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough.
Alex Neil spoke of North End’s performance meriting victory, and the least they deserved was a draw.
The football played for half-an-hour in the first half was some of the best I have seen PNE play at Deepdale for quite some time.
They had Boro chasing shadows, and more polish on their finishing would surely have put the game beyond the visitors.
I’ll credit Boro at this point for their recovery in the second half. While I didn’t think they deserved the three points, their response after the break was worthy of a draw.
Neil was frustrated that such a good first-half performance had gone unrewarded.
Deep down, he probably felt just as frustrated with the two draws his team got either side of Christmas.
They should have beaten Nottingham Forest, even if it was a game they had to come from behind to claim a draw from.
At Barnsley on Boxing Day they weren’t quite at it, especially in the second half – a missed opportunity.
The shining light was the Friday night win at Cardiff.
We’d expected thunder and lightning in Wales by reason of what Neil Warnock had said post-match when the Bluebirds had lost 3-0 at Deepdale in September.
“I can’t wait to get them back to our place,” Cardiff boss Warnock had remarked three months previously.
North End weren’t to be intimidated, a solid foothold established in the game early on before Tom Clarke’s goal nicked it right at the death.
Just how sweet is a last-minute winner away from home? Especially one on Sky TV where I’m told the attention was very much of a Welsh leaning.
Had you looked at PNE’s fixtures before Christmas, your money might have been on a win against either Forest or Barnsley, with a point a pleasing outcome at Cardiff.
Football doesn’t always follow a pattern, with points collected or dropped when not particularly expected.
As we take a break from league action for the FA Cup this weekend, North End are handily placed in the table.
With 26 games played they sit three points shy of the play-offs in ninth place.
When the season started, I’m sure many fans would have taken a 40-point haul.
The fact is they could have been in an even healthier position had they clung on to a few more points they had in their grasp.
But the opportunity is there to push on in the next few months and to have got some early transfer business done is a big bonus.
While the schedule was a busy one over Christmas, four games in 10 days was not one I would regard as being absolutely back-breaking.
It is pretty much the norm in the Football League, with teams used to that type of schedule at regular points in the season.
This season’s Christmas programme has been much discussed at Premier League level.
Some top-level managers have questioned playing so many matches close together. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola talked of the schedule ‘killing players’.
I don’t think four games in 10 days or so is particularly unreasonable.
But in the Premier League what needs looking at is how some teams’ games have been scheduled.
It has been a bit all over the place, some teams having longer to recover than others.
Was it fair to ask West Bromwich Albion to play at West Ham just 48 hours after their clash with Arsenal, while the Hammers had got the benefit of a few extra days 0ff?
When top-flight clubs are happy to sell television rights for the sums they do, have they really got any grounds for complaint when Sky start calling the shots?
Do the armchair and barstool fans really need a diet of daily football at Christmas? Would it have ruined the festivities had Tottenham’s clash with West Ham not been shown, or indeed City’s trip to Palace?
Why not have everyone playing on the same days, cutting out the argument that certain teams had more or less preparation time.
PNE and Cardiff could have argued that they had less time to prepare for last Friday’s clash than the sides playing on Saturday.
On the flipside of the coin, they had an extra few hours to get ready for New Year’s Day – something which Boro boss Tony Pulis was quick to mention post-match at Deepdale.
I’m sure football could survive without there being a live match on every day over Christmas and New Year.
There are always repeats of Escape to Victory on TV if you need a football fix to help digest the leftover turkey and stuffing!