Five things we learned from Preston North End's 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough
Alan Browne was on the scoresheet again as Preston extended their unbeaten Championship run to nine games with a draw against Middlesbrough.
Below we take a look at the main talking points.
Browne’s got his mojo back
Alan Browne is back. After being dropped at Bristol City he’s played a starring role against both Blackburn and Middlesbrough. His goal was one to savour. Taking the ball from Brandon Barker just inside the area, the Irishman found his feet expertly and sent in a sweet strike that arrowed into the bottom corner just before half-time. But elsewhere Browne was well, just Browne. Full of running in both directions he supported Louis Moult really well in the final third and did some of the dirty work, charging down a Darren Randolph clearance which nearly resulted in a goal. He may have needed Daniel Johnson’s absence to get back in but it’s hard to see Browne being left out again any time soon.
Storey isn’t one for the future - his time might be now
The traditional pecking order might have seen Tom Clarke move back into the centre of defence with Ben Davies missing due to a knock. But having been out of the side for recent weeks Jordan Storey was back in alongside Paul Huntington. Alex Neil’s thinking might have been two-fold. The former Exeter man is perhaps the closest in terms of style to Davies while it also allowed a third physical defender in Clarke to stay in the side to reinforce the backline against a strong Boro side. It was an assured performance from a player who is making the step up to the Championship. He handled Jordan Hugill with aplomb and even had one late sight of goal but fired over after finding his feet in the box. A more than able deputy and arguably equal to his more senior colleagues.
Barker close to being a huge asset for PNE
Brandon Barker was the beneficiary as Callum Robinson began his lengthy injury absence. His qualities are clear. Quick, direct and a real handful when on his game. The Manchester City man nearly handed PNE another early goal but having been played clear by Louis Moult in the opening moments he almost had too much time and allowed Lewis Wing to recover and tackle. Barker was always an outlet down the left though and had an assist before the opening half was out, feeding Browne who did the rest. His promising play continued after the interval. An early shot being helped over the bar before one run had the Town End up, only for the ball to run out of play. He may have been in and out of the side but North End fans have seen enough to know what an asset he could be this season.
The Moult option is a very good one to have
He’s banged on the door plenty of times this season and Louis Moult will have been pleased that his impact off the bench in the win over Blackburn was rewarded with a start here. The striker has always said if PNE play to his strengths then he can be a real focal point for Alex Neil. He certainly started this one well, bringing others into play and winning some clever free-kicks to alleviate pressure as North End worked the ball into wide areas more than the norm. He did have a chance in the first half but shot too close to Darren Randolph. After the break there was an eye-catching flick that nearly released Browne and more good forward play before a good shift ended with 15 minutes to play.
Hugill will always be respected at Deepdale
He may have divided opinion at times during his time in Lancashire but Jordan Hugill was met with warm applause on his return to Deepdale. Watching him from the other side it is clear to see why he was so coveted before his PNE departure, a target man that is something of a dying breed. While his strengths were obvious the reality is that the near Â£10 million striker was on the fringes for large parts of the game, which is to North End’s credit.