Dave Seddon's Preston North End pressview: Goals, drama and cabbages in a thriller at Aston Villa

Knowing where to begin when trying to reflect on the thrilling 3-3 draw between Preston and Aston Villa in midweek is no simple task.

Saturday, 6th October 2018, 9:00 am
Updated Saturday, 6th October 2018, 11:48 am
Preston North End's Louis Moult celebrates scoring against Aston Villa

It was a game which was a privilege to cover purely for the excitement, the drama and the fallout.

Hipster football purists might have poured scorn on it but anyone else with a pulse can’t have helped but been entertained.

What was there not to like about six goals, a red card and the last kick of the game being a missed penalty?

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Okay, from a North End point of view the sixth goal of the night was not enjoyable by reason of Villa scoring it.

And that 90 seconds or so between the award of the penalty and Chris Maxwell saving it, aged anyone of a Preston persuasion by a good few years.

Otherwise it was a thriller at the Villa, up there in the list of exciting PNE games I’ve covered or watched as a supporter down the years.

It didn’t quite reach the heights of the 6-4 victory at Leeds in 2010 – what could?

But it wasn’t a million miles behind either, on a par too with a few games in the 1980s when North End dropped 2-0 behind and hit back to win 3-2.

The drama continued once Tweets had been sent, the match report re-written for the fifth time and a quick chat been had with Greg Cunningham who turned up to watch his former Preston team-mates in action.

Until this one, I had yet to attend a press conference where the opening question was about a cabbage being lobbed from the crowd in the direction of Steve Bruce.

Dodging the vegetable and having his say on the game was to be Bruce’s last stand as Villas boss.

He was gone less than 24 hours later, the swiftness of the sacking beaten only by the cabbage having its own Twitter profile created.

More on Bruce in a bit, but first what did this draw tell us about the state of play at North End at present?

It ended a run of four Championship defeats and in my book, kiboshed any suggestion that the squad weren’t playing for Alex Neil.

One or two accusations of that nature had been flying around on social media as Neil’s men went 2-0 down in a lacklustre first half.

Managers who have ‘lost the dressing room’ would rarely be afforded the chance of watching a fight back like the one Neil saw.

For all three substitutes to score and in the order they entered the fray too, was surely a first for Preston.

Other chances came and went as they peppered the North Stand goal.

But it wouldn’t be PNE at the moment if there wasn’t a sting in the tail, that coming in the form of the equaliser and then the penalty drama.

At half-time you would have bitten their hand off had someone offered you a 3-3 draw.

Having turned 2-0 down into a 3-2 lead with just eight minutes of regulation time to go, a draw was the last thing on your mind.

Mixed blessings then but at least the run of defeats was brought to a halt.

And it could be that events in the Midlands are a spark for an upturn in form.

The concern remains about North End’s defending, with 15 goals shipped in the five Championship matches since the last international break.

But as I wrote last week in this column, a settled back line in the longer term could be the answer rather than the swapping and changing of the last few weeks.

Back to Villa and for the second time in two years, a game against North End was to be the last for the man in their manager’s office.

Bruce followed the path which Roberto Di Matteo had done, for the Italian a 2-0 loss at Deepdale finished him off.

With Bruce, his reign came to an end on home soil.

The atmosphere inside Villa Park was toxic by the time North End equalised at 2-2 and then made it 3-2.

He deserved far better than the undignified scenes and the cabbage throwing.

To be fair to him, in the press conference he fronted up and said his piece, not ducking any of the questions which came his way.

He’s been in football long enough to realise what was coming.

I worked with Bruce in my previous job covering Wigan and found him a thoroughly decent man.

It’s almost 10 years since we parted ways – Bruce went to Sunderland as I came to cover PNE full-time.

But there’s always been a hello and a bit of small talk in press conferences since at Hull and Villa.

The Villa Park clash was one available to watch on Sky’s red button or via a £10 fee to the iFollow service.

Most rounds of midweek fixtures will be the same, with there being arguments for and against it.

For some fans, it is a much cheaper and convenient way to watch Championship football.

But what affect will it have on attendances, especially the away followings?

PNE’s travelling support at Villa Park was a shade less than 400, that probably due to recent form more than the red button status.

But will more matches being on television or streamed chip away at numbers, not just at Preston but at many other clubs?

There is a debate to be had there.