Preston 3-2 Town
Saturday, 28th Feb 2009 18:27
Poor defending and a controversial penalty led to Town falling to an undeserved 3-2 defeat at Preston, despite Tommy Miller scoring twice against his old loan club. For the Lilywhites, Callum Davidson netted a harsh penalty and Jon Parkin and Stephen Elliott were also on the scoresheet.
Town made one enforced change from the team which beat QPR last week with Moritz Volz coming in for the injured Ben Thatcher and David Wright moving to left-back. Jon Walters was left on the bench.
The home side went ahead in the fifth minute. Alex Bruce tried to see a ball over the top out of play but allowed Stephen Elliott to get round him and on the ball. The Preston player went to ground somewhat innocuously, but the linesman flagged for a penalty without even a protest from Elliott. Referee Steve Tanner pointed to the spot, while the linesman indicated a shirt pull to the incredulous Bruce, who complained that he had been tugged back by the shorts.
Callum Davidson took the kick low to Richard Wright's right, the ball just squirming under the Town keeper. For the third away game in a row the Blues had conceded within the first five minutes.
As against QPR, Town gradually started to take control and in the 12th minute Volz crossed from the right and Jon Stead headed wide. Six minutes later, Couñago laid the ball off to Tommy Miller, who shot over.
On 19 Couñago's effort from the edge of the box was deflected wide, then from the corner Stead headed straight at keeper Andy Lonergan.
Town were caught cold by a quick freekick in the 24th minute, Paul McKenna playing the ball across the edge of the area to Simon Whaley, whose effort flew well over.
The Blues got back on terms in the 31st minute after a fine flowing move down the left. Stead moved the ball wide to Luciano Civelli, who took it on before hitting a low ball into the box towards Tommy Miller. The midfielder rode a tackle and then beat Lonergan to register his usual goal against his former loan club.
Town fully deserved their equaliser, having come back strongly after the early goal. On 33 the home side felt they should have been awarded another penalty when Whaley's cross struck David Wright on the arm. It looked more of a penalty than the one which had been given earlier, but the officials waved away the claims.
The Blues had had the better of the half overall, but the Lilywhites were still proving to be a threat. Billy Jones headed a Whaley cross straight at Wright in the 36th minute. Moments later, Preston were forced into a substitution after Sean St Ledger was injured in an aerial clash with Couñago and was replaced by Eddie Nolan.
Alan Irvine's men went back in front in the 40th minute after a mix-up between Bruce and Wright as Parkin went after a long ball played over the top. Bruce hesitated as he waited for Wright to come off his line, Parkin nipped in front of him and, as Wright tried to punch away from the edge of his box, the Preston striker nodded the ball over him and into the net.
It was a terrible goal to concede at any level with Bruce probably most culpable for not acting more decisively in the first place, while Wright should have made sure he got to the ball once he had decided to leave his line.
The second goal seemed to panic Town and soon after Miller lost possession midway in his own half after a series of passes in a dangerous area of the field. Parkin's shot was saved by Wright.
Couñago volleyed to Lonergan before referee Tanner blew his whistle. Town deserved more than to go in a goal down at the break, but had only themselves to blame for second goal. The first also came from a defensive error in addition to the somewhat harsh penalty award. Aside from that, the Blues had been much the better side.
Town replaced Moritz Volz with Pim Balkestein, the German defender having pulled up with a recurrence of his groin problem towards the end of the half. Alex Bruce moved to right-back with Balkestein joining Gareth McAuley at the centre of the defence.
The Blues started the second period strongly, Wright crossing from the left, Civelli flicking on and Couñago forcing Lonergan to tip over his header over. Soon after, McAuley headed down a freekick, the ball eventually falling to Balkestein, who hit a shot just inside the post, which Lonergan did well to save.
Jon Parkin was yellow-carded for a very late challenge on McAuley in the 53rd minute, then moments later Paul McKenna joined him Mr Tanner's book for a foul on Tommy Miller. The referee suddenly seemed awake to challenges which had appeared to ignore in the opening half Richard Chaplow in particular getting away with a number of late tackles. Four minutes before the hour, Kevin Lisbie took over from the quiet Jon Stead.
Preston increased their lead somewhat against the run of play in the 60th minute. A corner from the right somehow reached Stephen Elliott at the far post and the striker, who had lost marker Alan Quinn, slammed the ball into the roof of the net. Town had again been the architects of their own downfall.
Four minutes later, the Blues pulled a goal back. Kevin Lisbie was fouled on the edge of the area and Tommy Miller curled a freekick into the corner of the net for his second of the game.
David Norris was booked for a foul on 65, prior to being replaced on the right of midfield by Jon Walters.
The sub almost created an equaliser in the 69th minute, playing a ball inside which caught a defender and landed in Lisbie's path six yards out on the right. Keeper Lonergan did well to advance from his line and block from the former Colchester man.
Two minutes later, Lisbie came even closer, cutting in from the left and hitting a shot which cannoned off Lonergan's right post and away. Town were doing everything but scoring.
On 78 Davidson got himself in the book for very blatant timewasting when he threw the ball into the crowd to delay a Town throw. The ballboys had by now been withdrawn as the home side sought to waste as much time as possible.
Ross Wallace sent a freekick over, prior to Gareth McAuley picking up his fifth booking of the season and a one-match ban for a foul on sub Chris Brown. The Town skipper will miss the visit to Wolves on March 10th.
Town's final chance came from a Wright cross from the left. Walters headed down and Lisbie's overhead kick looked goalbound until Lonergan got across to palm it behind.
On the balance of play, the defeat was harsh on the Blues, who were on top for much of the game and played the better football. However, a series of individual errors and the disputable penalty allowed the home side three goals they didn't really deserve.
The Town management will feel that three points have been lost, but aside from the defensive mistakes will be pleased with the performance with the Blues at times playing some of their most fluent football of the season.
Luciano Civelli had perhaps his best game so far, helping to create Tommy Miller's first goal, but at the moment has a tendency to drift in and out of matches.
The failure to gain three points means a victory over Southampton on Tuesday is vital if Town are to continue their late push for the play-offs.
Town: R Wright, Volz (Balkestein 46), D Wright, McAuley, Bruce, Miller, Quinn, Norris (Walters 67), Civelli, Stead (Lisbie 56), Couñago. Unused: Supple, Garvan. Att: 12,709.
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