Below we take a look at the main talking points.
There’s a lack of numbers but no lack of effort
The sight of Adam O’Reilly and Ethan Walker coming off the bench for their debuts late on showed just how tight numbers are at Deepdale. Pre-match, it looked like being a bleak day for a PNE side who had lost their last two. But while they were lacking in numbers, they were certainly not lacking in effort. A depleted side, with little in reserve amongst the replacements threw themselves at Villa from the off, Jordan Storey hitting the bar in the opening moments. Tammy Abraham’s goal right on the stroke of half-time was a real kick in the teeth but PNE came out firing and deservedly got their goal on the hour mark. More chances came, Tom Barkhuizen hitting the post, in what turned into a pulsating game. PNE survived a couple of late scares with a point the least they deserved on the day.
Nmecha’s first ‘goal’ can make a real difference
Live it looked like the Manchester City loanee had got his first PNE goal with closer inspection suggesting that Ahmed Elmohamady might have got the final touch sliding in. It was announced as Nmecha’s though and he is claiming it and the lift it gave him was clear, a shot from 20 yards going narrowly wide just moments after the equaliser. For large parts it had again been tough going for the striker. He is clearly desperate to make an impact and worked his socks off, barely able to chase a long ball in the closing stages. There was obvious fan frustration with him at times but it is not an easy gig leading the line like this in what is his first full season of senior football. Hopefully the ‘goal’, whether it’s his or not, will kick him on.
Burke better in his more natural position
Despite being hooked after just 45 minutes of the Boxing Day defeat to Hull, Graham Burke kept his place to face his former club on Saturday. The Irishman had a difficult first start since September against the Tigers, looking lost out on the wing. He was in a more natural role to him on Saturday as he supported Nmecha through the middle. Burke certainly appeared more at home and came within a whisker of scoring a stunning opener for PNE as he latched onto Daniel Johnson’s deep pass. Even if he was on the fringes at times, this was certainly a marked improvement before he made way for fellow Irishman O’Reilly late on.
Storey and Ledson taking their chance
Ben Davies’ injury and Ben Pearson’’s suspension means there is a big chance for two summer signings in the coming games. After impressing off the bench against Hull City on Boxing Day, the Jordan Storey and Ryan Ledson were in from the start against Villa. Storey, impressive and composed at the back, almost gave PNE a memorable start with his shot crashing against the bar inside two minutes. Ledson was again at his all-action best. Not afraid to get stuck in, he also drove North End on when he could with some decisive passing and neat play. Two exciting talents who are going to get their chance to shine.
Aerial defending becoming a concern
Tammy Abraham’s goal undid a lot of good work from PNE in the first half. It was an all too familiar tale though as the Chelsea loanee shook off his marker and was all alone to head home Glenn Whelan’s corner from six yards out right at the end of the first period. That’s four goals on the trot that have been headers, three of those set pieces. Jackson Irvine’s late winner for Hull on Boxing Day made grim viewing and this one was no better, the ball being allowed to travel some distance before the unmarked Abraham got the decisive touch. Something for Alex Neil to look at in training.