Preston North End 1-1 Rotherham: Adam Lord's match verdict after drab Deepdale draw
Well, they can't all be thrillers.
Alex Neil was spot on in with his prediction ahead of Rotherham’s visit to Deepdale on Saturday.
Large parts of his pre-match press conference covered how open the Championship has been this season with pretty much every side happy to go toe to toe.
PNE have of course been at the centre of that.
Four goals had been scored in each of the previous two home games with the Lilywhites’ 23 in total, meaning they were the third highest scorers in the division at the start of play. It was of course the 28 shipped, and the fact Neil’s side had the worst defensive record, that was the bigger concern.
After all the talk about side’s throwing caution to the wind, Thursday morning’s chat with the media concluded with the feeling that Rotherham, fresh from a first away point of the season after a 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough, would be an altogether more cagey proposition.
And so it proved. It shouldn’t really have been any surprise. Neil’s prediction aside, the teams started and ended the day on the same number of Championship points.
The 14 apiece leaves PNE 20th in the table with the Millers a place further down the standings on goal difference.
Paul Warne’s side have now also drawn five of their last six as they scrap for every point in their bid to make sure their return to the second tier after promotion is not fleeting.
The Millers boss will have been the happier at the final whistle. There was certainly plenty of frustration on the Preston side at the result but the wider context is that after a wretched start to the season North End are now five games unbeaten.
The league table and this largely lacklustre performance tells us though that there is still plenty more work to be done if Neil’s men are to decisively pull themselves away from trouble.
Many will feel that two of the points needed to keep heading in the right direction should have come on Saturday.
But this is not a game that will live long in the memory.
Not only was this largely tight and low on real clear-cut chances but it was also lacking in quality.
There were errors aplenty at times.
One passage of play saw Rotherham skipper Will Vaulks penalised for a foul throw by referee Jeremy Simpson. A rare sight indeed.
Then after Millers keeper Marek Rodak had sent a clearance straight into the hands of opposite number Chris Maxwell, he returned the favour immediately.
It was that kind of day at Deepdale.
Fresh from the thriller against Brentford Neil opted for continuity when it came to team selection.
He admitted post-match that four changes had been lined up but his desire to finally have some consistency in his starting XI having chopped and changed throughout the season for various reasons meant Tom Clarke was the only new face with Darnell Fisher dropping to the bench.
The opening stages suggested it was the right call with PNE bright and breezy from the off.
Man of the moment Callum Robinson picked up the ball on halfway and spotted a Tom Barkhuizen run three minutes in but rather than accelerate away, the winger took an early shot which was easy for Radek. The hosts kept coming and Daniel Johnson, impressive in the opening stages, had a sight of goal but saw a well-struck shot blocked.
Rotherham then hit back with Will Vaulks’ shot from distance not far wide of Maxwell’s left-hand post before the visitors came within a whisker of opening the scoring.
Ben Davies and Paul Huntington, again the preferred central defensive partnership, went for the same ball with Michael Smith profiting, his shot from 20 yards coming back off the post and out to safety.
An opening that promised so much soon faded though.
Maxwell made two routine saves from a Kyle Vassell header and a Richie Towell shot around the half-hour mark as both sides flattered to deceive.
Andrew Hughes also sent a tame free-kick into the goalkeeper’s arms at the other end as Deepdale calmed.
The opening goal then came somewhat out of nothing six minutes before the break.
Robinson whipped in the corner with BARKHUIZEN darting to the near post and flicking a header home for his 50th career goal.
PNE nearly extended their advantage shortly after, Semi Ajayi surviving a horrible moment.
The defender under-cooked a header to his goalkeeper with Barkhuizen on hand to stab an effort goalwards. Radek saved with Ajayi recovering to scramble the ball clear.
Had that gone in, who knows how the game might have panned out? But it was as good as it got for North End.
Rotherham sent another man through the middle after the break and were a different proposition.
Vassell tested Maxwell for a second time four minutes into the second half, the PNE keeper this time needing to extend himself further to his left, palming the ball away. But Warne’s side didn’t have to wait long for their goal.
Ryan Williams impressed in the second period and his decisive intervention saw him profit from some slack defending from Robinson and Hughes before squaring for SMITH to turn and fire beyond Maxwell.
With the Millers level there was in truth little to write home about after that.
Robinson dragged a shot wide from distance but little followed in the way of goal-mouth action.
Neil introduced Sean Maguire, Paul Gallagher and Louis Moult but his side struggled to find the opening that would have brought a third straight home win.
The chance came 13 minutes from time and fell to just the right man, seemingly.
Robinson took the ball down well and made space for a shot but Rodak saved one-on-one with both sides having to settle for a point.