Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Preston North End: Dave Seddon's verdict as Ben Pearson sees red in fifth straight Hillsborough defeat

Red cards and December trips to Hillsborough appear to go hand-in-hand for Preston.

Sunday, 23rd December 2018, 8:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:57 pm
Tom Barkhuizen reacts after heading over the bar in PNE's defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday

In 2016 it was team-mates Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle going head-to-head like rutting stags.

Two years on, North End midfielder Ben Pearson chose the more traditional route for a sending-off with a challenge on an opponent.

His 26th minute tackle on Marco Matias earned him a straight red card and was to divide opinion.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Tom Barkhuizen reacts after heading over the bar in PNE's defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday

Correct decision said some, agreeing with referee David Coote’s colour choice.

Others saw a miscarriage of justice – Alex Neil backing his player - one which they hope an appeal can put right.

Pearson led with his right foot in making the challenge on Matias, winning the ball in doing so.

The misdemeanour which Mr Coote saw was the follow through of the left foot.

Ben Pearson appeals to referee David Coote shortly before being sent off

That caught Matias high up his leg, just under the knee, that reckless in the eyes of the Premier League whistler.

A few years ago we would not have been having such a debate, a yellow enough and on with the game.

But of late, a dim view has started to be taken of players following through with the other leg.

Neil was to question later where Pearson was meant to put his left leg and that will form the main part of an appeal should one be submitted.

Louis Moult squares up with match-winner Michael Hector

At first glance from my seat high up in the main stand, I saw it as a foul and expected a yellow card to follow.

Red surprised me, the card brandished rather quickly it must be said.

Slowed down and shown from different angles, I can see the argument for Mr Coote dismissing Pearson.

That said, I cannot see any malice in the challenge and it would fit the reckless category rather than dangerous.

Whatever the merits of it, Pearson being sent for an early bath was Saturday afternoon’s key moment.

It gave the home side the extra man and with that in their favour they just about found a way past North End.

Had the visitors kept all 11 players on the pitch, the general consensus was that a point at least would have been brought back over the Pennines.

Instead they were left to rue a fifth Hillsborough defeat on the spin, a run started by the 2012 loss – the one when Aaron Brown played up front.

Timings certainly went against the Lilywhites in this latest visit to South Yorkshire.

Pearson walking with more than an hour left naturally swung the balance in favour of Wednesday.

More bad timing had come less than 24 hours before the clash when the Owls sacked manager Jos Luhukay.

Prior to the axe being swung on the Dutchman, you would really have fancied North End crossing the Pennines and adding to Wednesday’s dreadful form of late.

Luhukay going and being replaced for this game by Lee Bullen – a thoroughly decent bloke if 15 minutes of a press conference is an accurate guide – galvanised the home side to some extent.

Bullen got the crowd on side by bringing back keeper Keiren Westwood who had been frozen out by Luhukay.

There were places on the bench too for Sam Hutchinson and George Boyd who Luhukay rarely used.

Saying that, had North End played anything like they had done in some of the games of the last three months they would have had too much for Wednesday – never mind the ‘bounce’ of the caretaker boss.

Once Pearson went off though, it was all about survival.

They went 4-4-1, got men behind the ball and did their best to disrupt the flow of the game.

For 36 minutes after Pearson had gone, Preston stuck to their plan.

They needed Declan Rudd to pull off a fine save and the help of the post to keep it all square going into half-time.

There was almost a sense of injustice on Rudd’s part when he produced another fine save to push behind a Matias shot just beyond the hour mark.

It was from the resulting corner, worked short, that Wednesday fashioned what turned out to be the winner.

With a depleted forward line due to injuries, North End lacked the creativity to get back into it.

Mind you, Tom Barkhuizen should have levelled within three minutes, only to send a header over from six yards.

That aside, there was little which overly threatened the Wednesday goal – plenty of honest toil but nothing else.

In the closing stages it was Barkhuizen and sub Graham Burke up front – Louis Moult having limped off and Lukas Nmecha withdrawn.

Threadbare is perhaps on the generous side when it comes to Neil’s front line as we hit Christmas.

While the opening of the transfer window is a little more than a week away, there are three games to negotiate before then.

If Pearson’s ban is left in place, he will miss all of those plus the FA Cup clash against Doncaster.

PNE boss Neil will have to be creative with his selection over Christmas and New Year, due to the lack of numbers.

On Saturday, he’d had the relative luxury of bringing Moult back into the attack, with the subsequent rejigging seeing Alan Browne moved to the bench for a rest.

But Neil’s hopes of being able to get through most of the game without needing to call on the services of Browne, went out of the window soon after half-time when Moult’s hamstring flared-up.

Another fitness issue had cropped-up before the game, Tom Clarke’s broken nose causing further breathing difficulties which forced the skipper to stay at home.

Clarke’s absence meant a recall for Darnell Fisher who looked more like the player we saw last season rather than this campaign’s disappointing version.

The game was settled in the 62nd minute, Adam Reach playing a corner short to Josh Onomah on the left.

PNE’s defence switched off momentarily, that giving Onomah room to deliver a cross to the near post.

Michael Hector nipped in front of Andrew Hughes to steer a header across goal and into the far side of the net.