Swansea 1, Preston North End 0: Dave Seddon's big match verdict
One of the coaches carrying Preston fans to Swansea only made it to the Liberty Stadium 15 minutes into the game.
It can be argued that those supporters arrived earlier to the clash in mind and spirit than the North End team did, such was the nature of the first-half performance.
Alex Neil’s outfit only got going once the whistle went to start the second half.
When they were in their stride they gave Swansea a run for their money and there was a feeling of ‘what might have been’ had they got into the swing of it for 90 minutes and not just 45.
PNE were playing catch-up from the 33rd minute onwards when Jay Fulton headed what proved to be the contest’s only goal.
They might have had to do that from even earlier had it not been for a penalty save made by Declan Rudd.
For that first period in the South Wales rain, North End were hesitant and allowed themselves to be moved all over the place by Swansea’s slick passing game.
Neil’s words at half-time must have struck a cord as with the same 11 players and formation, the men in yellow got into the groove.
They bossed the play as Swansea sunk deep to protect their lead.
The stats from the game showed Preston passed the ball 538 times, 450 of which found a team-mate – both of those figures were the best in the Championship.
What those passes didn’t lead to though, was a goal, something which their play in the second half deserved.
Eleven of PNE’s 12 efforts on and off target came in that second 45 minutes.
New boy Lukas Nmecha came the closest with a shot which City substitute keeper Erwin Mulder tipped over the bar.
Nmecha will feel he should have done better with a later chance, presented him by a back pass which fell short.
It was a race between him and Mulder for the ball, the keeper showing that bit more conviction to get there first.
For all those efforts which North End had, many of them were from the edge of the box or from an angle.
More crosses need to be put closer in, let the strikers do their job from the 10-12 yard range.
There was one driven cross which left the right boot of Tom Barkhuizen and with a touch more fortune could have found one of three PNE players who were within eight yards of goal.
It is more of that which will bring joy, to too something similar to a reverse pass from Callum Robinson which was to play in Nmecha for his chance which the keeper saved.
Nmecha had a decent start in a PNE shirt with just the one training session under his belt.
He got the nod over Louis Moult to play, Moult entitled to count himself a touch unlucky.
The former Motherwell man had played well against Queens Park Rangers on the opening day without scoring.
Then again, the chances hadn’t been created for him to have a sniff near goal.
Neil chose to have Nmecha’s pace at the top of the pitch in a bid to stretch Swansea’s back four.
That the Manchester City loanee started to do in the second half, like the majority of his team-mates who had struggled to make an impact before the interval.
While any defeat is always disappointing, Neil will have had some positives written down to encourage him.
Ben Pearson was, well, Ben Pearson. The midfielder pressed and hustled, in the first half almost doing things on his own.
When PNE got going, it was Pearson often on the ball to start with looking to start moves off.
In his native Wales, although much further along the M4 than home city Cardiff, Andrew Hughes produced an impressive show down the left side.
He got himself high up the pitch as Preston pushed for an equaliser, overlapping well on a few occasions.
Between the posts, Rudd performed well and it wasn’t just the penalty save when he did the business.
He made a good save with his legs from Joel Asoro soon after the goal, the Swansea man having worked himself some space in the box.
A rare second-half chance for the home side saw Bersant Celina have a shot which Rudd pushed into the side-netting.
In the first few minutes when Swansea were playing out from inside their own box, PNE snapping away at them, I thought there was going to be plenty of joy to be had.
But the home side got into a rhythm which Neil’s men could not to grips with until the change around.
It needed Rudd to prevent Swansea taking an early lead when Alan Browne’s challenge on Barrie McKay as they went for a bouncing ball, sent the winger to the turf.
There was an argument that contact might have been outside the box but referee James Linington pointed to the penalty spot.
Oli McBurnie put his kick low towards the corner, Rudd going the correct way to push it around the post.
Rudd was beaten in the 33rd minute by a goal which North End could comfortably have prevented.
Asoro’s cross from acres of space on the right was the third passage of play after PNE had cleared a free-kick, one awarded rather unjustly against Darnell Fisher who also got a yellow card.
FULTON, who had stayed in the box after the free-kick, nipped round the side of Ben Davies to send a header over Rudd into the roof of the near at the near post.
North End were a different beast in the second half, with them on the front foot for the majority of it.
The home side dropped deep to protect what they had, that requiring a touch more creativity from the visitors.
With space behind the back line at a premium, they were having to work the ball in front of Swansea a lot and look for openings that way.
That is why we saw plenty of pot shots from the edge of the box, Robinson and Josh Harrop going close.
Nmecha’s shot which was pushed over by Mulder – on for Kristoffer Nordfeldt who hurt his groin early on – was the closest they went.