Preston North End 2 Stoke City 2: Dave Seddon's big match verdict
It was like they had never been away. After a 10-year break Preston and Stoke resumed rivalries in competitive action and history suggested there was going to be goals in it.
This fixture had produced two 4-3 scorelines – a win each by that score – and victories for North End of 3-2, 3-0 and 2-0 since 1998.
On Saturday teatime they sharedfour goals, a result which neither side seemed greatly impressed by.
From a PNE perspective there was disappointment that twice they had taken the lead and not come out of the other end with three points.
Reading the comments of a few Potters fans, sharing the spoils with the Lilywhites did not go down particularly well with them.
The ‘teams like Preston’ line was trotted out, ignoring the fact this particular team had finished seventh in May and are expected to challenge again for a top-six slot.
Recently relegated from the Premier League after a decade’s stay, being pushed all the way by North End and for decent chunks playing second fiddle to them, didn’t go down too well with some of a Stoke persuasion.
Whatever the view was of the scoreline and what might have been, you couldn’t deny that this was a belter of a game, the first-half in particular an absolute ripsnorter.
Some Championship games can be a tough watch but this was anything but.
Play swung back and forth, the first half so good that it went on for 50 minutes.
Things levelled off a little in the second half but there was still sufficient action so to not take your eyes off it.
Preston were decent, in fact very decent, deserving of the 2-1 lead they took into the interval.
The three first-half goals were contained in a 10-minute spell right at the end of it.
Paul Gallagher almost took the net off its hooks with a 40th minute penalty, Stoke back level within a couple of minutes through Erik Pieters.
North End were to restore their lead with virtually the last kick of the half in the fifth minute of stoppage-time.
It was some last kick too, Graham Burke displaying fine composure to volley home.
The lead was to last a lot longer this time, only for Peter Crouch to come off the bench and head his 200th goal.
Seeing the ball fly in off the back of the head of the 6ft 7in striker didn’t exactly go down well with Alex Neil.
“Crouch is about 9ft tall, you can’t miss him,” said the North End boss.
“We should have got people around him for the goal and stopped him.”
Had Preston gone and taken the lead for a third time to win the game, you would not have been able to begrudge them that.
As it was, a point is all they had to show for their efforts and in the long run it might prove out to be decent one.
The mindset at Deepdale is now such that a draw against a side fresh down from the top flight can be met with a slight sense of disappointment. Neil while pleased with most parts of the performance, could not hide his frustration that two points had gone begging.
Had the boot been on the other foot and they had battled back twice to get a draw, his view might have been much different.
But having taken the lead twice, this in Neil’s eyes was two points dropped.
He is constantly pushing this side for better, raising the bar with what he wants.
Preston are well beyond the happy to be here stage, Neil wants them in the upper reaches of the table and challenging.
Start wise, they are on par with this time last year.
The first three league games have brought four points, that you would say is solid if not spectacular.
A central figure in this game in more ways than one, was Gallagher.
This was his first league start of term, it following on from 90 minutes in the midweek League Cup win over Morecambe.
He slotted in alongside the excellent Ben Pearson, a big part of the game plan being to get Gallagher on the ball and spray passes around.
The fact he got himself on the scoresheet was a touch controversial by reason of his elbow connecting with the nose of Joe Allen earlier in the contest.
It could well have been a red card had referee Andrew Madley seen it.
The fact that Sky’s cameras picked it up might mean that a retrospective suspension is winging his way from the FA.
By the time Gallagher got on the scoresheet, there had been other opportunities for Preston to take the lead.
Callum Robinson and Alan Browne had gone close, Browne’s being a double chance which saw him force Jack Butland to save a header and then a follow-up volley.
The deadlock was broken when Darnell Fisher’s cross struck Tom Edwards on the arm, Mr Madley pointing to the spot.
Gallagher went through his usual routine of turning his back on the goal, walking to the edge of the box then spinning round to start his run-up.
Had the roof of the net not got in the way of the penalty, it would have endangered the shoppers in Sainsbury’s down Deepdale Road.
Stoke’s response was swift, an attack down their right side seeing Darren Fletcher put over a cross which skimmed Fisher’s head and landed at the feet of Pieters, the left-back driving a shot across goal into the far corner.
The last knockings of the first half saw North End win a free-kick down the right-wing.
Gallagher swung it into the box, Browne headed on and Ben Davies got a touch.
It fell Robinson’s way, his shanked shot flying across the box and presenting Burke with the opening to volley in from six yards on the angle.
The second Stoke equaliser came after Fisher fouled Tom Ince to give away a free-kick.
Allen’s curling delivery found Crouch six yards out, the ball hitting him on the back of the head and flying in.
Stoke got on top for a spell after that before PNE got back in charge and looked the more likely in the closing stages.
A point was better than nothing but they should have had all three.