PNE Fans' Panel verdicts: Preston North End need to up their game to avoid relegation dogfight
This is what the Lancashire Post PNE Fans' Panel made of the 1-1 Deepdale draw with Rotherham.
It was very much a case of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ for North End as we had to be satisfied with just a point at home to lowly Rotherham. Neither side got anywhere near top gear in this game, however the visitors were good value for their point against a PNE side lacking in all areas of the field. Whether it was just a one-off or a little bit of tiredness from Wednesday evening is a matter for debate. But much as we tried to make things happen we never seriously got going in this relegation encounter. Too many times we pondered on the ball in all three areas of the field and fair play to the Millers, who did not come to defend but played for the most part like they too wanted to take all three points from the game and not just one. Just one change for Preston and that was Tom Clarke coming in for out-of-sorts Darnell Fisher, and with an expectant crowd on a cold, sunny autumnal afternoon it was North End who started the better. Two blocked shots early on were hopefully a sign of things to come, but it was the visitors who hit the outside of the post to give PNE something to think about. It was a scrappy half that only really got going when North End took the lead five minutes from the break when Barkhuizen helped a Robinson corner on its way into the net with the help of a deflection from a Rotherham defender. Barkhuizen almost made it two when he nearly capitalised on a defensive mix up. After the break it was the visitors who came out much the stronger and after seeing one chance well saved by Maxwell, the Millers levelled up the score 10 minutes into the second period. A cross from the right found Smith in the box, who tuned well to score past Maxwell and put Rotherham level. I thought at this point that North End would have enough on the bench to win the game in the shape of Maguire, Gallagher and Moult. Sure enough all three were introduced at various points of the second half but no one in a white shirt could produce that little piece of magic for the second goal that would surely have won the game. Robinson had a great chance to win it but was denied by Rodak in the visitors goal when it looked easier to score and that was the end of that. I went through several emotions over the afternoon but my main concern was about the lack of leadership on the pitch which I suppose comes from being nervous at where we are in the league table. The manager hardly inspired the boys with too much shouting and not enough tactical variation for my liking. Having said all that, North End have now gone five games without defeat and picked up nine points which is obviously a great relief after the first nine game yielded just five. We will just have to battle and if we can collect another four points before the last international break of the year then it will be a job well done. We are going to have to play a lot better than this though with a very big game coming up at Portman Road next Saturday.
A drab affair at Deepdale ended in the stalemate and felt like an opportunity wasted for the Lilywhites. The exciting display of midweek seemed like a distant memory as the faithful trudged out of the ground in disappointed silence. What a shame, as the first few minutes saw Preston make a bright start with plenty of attacking play down the left flank as Callum Robinson looked like he was going to continue from where he had left off on Wednesday. However this was not to be, as the hosts seemed to be dragged more and more into Rotherham’s disruptive style of play. Indeed, in taking the lead shortly before half-time, with a Tom Barkhuizen header, it felt more like reward for the earlier play and that it was just about deserved. The fact that it could just as easily have been an equaliser instead, if a Rotherham shot from outside the box had not hit the post, again exposed the defensive frailties that have dogged North End all season. Set-pieces and allowing opposition players too much room to shoot from distance appear to be the two main problems. Rotherham came out for the second half in a more determined manner and it wasn’t too much of a surprise when they equalised following a cross from the wing that stretched the home defence enough to prevent blocking the eventual shot. At this point the hosts had lost any pattern in their play and it was therefore a relief to see the introduction of Sean Maguire and Paul Gallagher. This provided impetus again and was followed by a last throw of the dice in bringing on Louis Moult up top in an attempt to win the game. However, apart from a good chance created by Maguire but missed by Robinson, the visitors saw out the game and were no doubt more pleased with the point ‘gained’ for them compared to the two dropped by North End.
To use the words of singer and comedian George Formby, I thought that a second visit to Deepdale in four days would “turn out nice again” on this Rememberance Day anniversary game. However by the end of the game only our visitors from Rotherham might have felt like singing and joking as the faithful had to endure another frustrating afternoon. Rotherham arrived at Deepdale having picked up just one point on the road so far and being the division’s lowest scorers, this really was a game I felt we needed to win if we are ever going to pull away from the dreaded drop zone. The heady days of a seventh-spot finish seem like years ago to me at this moment in time and not just one season. We began quite well and took the lead but with the atmosphere at Deepdale again resembling a quaint village tearoom, Rotherham began to believe in themselves and came out all guns blazing in the second half and soon wiped out our lead. It was only in the last 15 minutes that we were able to put any serious pressure on what I consider to be one of the division’s poorest sides, which I thought was very disappointing and illustrated our shortcomings up front. Our best chance to win the game in this period came from leading scorer Callum Robinson, whose performance just about shaded my man of the match award. Robinson, who has been our chief footsoldier this season, showed a great touch in bringing down a cross from Ben Davies inside the area, but this time he was unable to deliver the finish to see off Rotherham as their keeper saved his scuffed shot with his legs. To stay up there need to be three sides worse than your own. But after failing to win home games against Reading and Rotherham, coupled with a lacklustre display at Hull City, I feel a five-match unbeaten run is a misleading statistic and we are heavily involved in a relegation dogfight.