Preston 3-1 Town
Wednesday, 15th Mar 2006 03:11
Town's play-off hopes appear to be over after losing 3-1 at Preston. The Blues were controversially reduced to 10 men early on when Richard Naylor was sent off but then went ahead via Jason De Vos. However, as Town legs tired in heavy conditions, David Nugent (2) and Patrick Agyemang won the points.
Ricardo Fuller, booed by his old fans on his return to Deepdale, was back in the starting line-up in place of Ian Westlake as the Blues switched to a 4-4-2 formation, other than that Town were unchanged from Saturday.
The first serious action came in the 10th minute and was the most significant of the match. Scott Barron on halfway slipped in the sodden conditions and failed to deal with a Preston break from a Town corner, allowing David Nugent to play the ball into the path of Brett Ormerod. The former Southampton man was through on goal but appeared to lose control and then went to ground easily as Naylor went shoulder to shoulder with him.
Referee Eddie Ilderton, who had already inexplicably deemed an obvious Town corner a throw-in, decided it had been a foul and that an obvious goalscoring opportunity had been denied and showed Naylor his second red card of the season.
Ormerod had certainly seemed to make the most of the contact with Naylor, the defender not even appearing to have made a challenge when the striker lost his footing.
The resultant freekick almost led to Preston going in front, Paul McKenna's shot cannoning off Shane Supple's left post with the goalkeeper well beaten, Ormerod somehow putting the rebound wide from point-blank range. A clearly incensed Joe Royle maintained a dialogue with the fourth official for most of the rest of the half.
On 13 Ormerod got behind the Town defence but Supple was out swiftly to block. The Blues made their first substitution soon afterwards, Sito replacing Darren Currie and moving to right-back with Fabian Wilnis having taken over from Naylor at the heart of the defence. Currie was clearly unimpressed with the Town management's decision to sacrifice him.
Jimmy Juan was swapped with Ian Westlake in the 26th minute, the Frenchman suffering with a recurrence of his recent groin injury and is a doubt for Saturday's trip to Crystal Palace.
Two minutes later, Ricardo Fuller managed Town's first attempt on goal, getting to a ball behind the Preston defence but keeper Carlo Nash coming out to block for a corner.
Despite several more perplexing decisions from referee Ilderton, Town were starting to get themselves on top with the home side allowing them to pass the ball around freely. In the 33rd minute Jason De Vos headed an Owen Garvan freekick wide.
Youl Mawene picked up a yellow card which had been coming for some while three minutes later for the latest in a succession of fouls on Alan Lee. From the freekick, the Blues went in front, Jason De Vos rising unmarked to nod home Garvan's pinpoint set-piece.
Two minutes before the break, the referee might have evened up the numbers when Mawene, already on a yellow card, appeared to foul Fuller when in full flight just outside the area. However, the decision, like so many others, went against Town with referee Ilderson waving play on.
The Blues were briefly down to just eight men in injury time with Fuller off having treatment after Mawene's challenge and De Vos requiring the addition of a bandage to a head wound. Alan Lee took over at centre-half until the Canadian returned.
Town deserved their lead at the break on the balance of play in the latter part of the half, despite the lack of numbers. The home side appeared short on ideas up front, aside from balls over the top for Ormerod and Nugent to chase.
The second half started with two more Town players requiring treatment, Westlake being caught late on the knee and then Wilnis requiring attention.
Supple saved from Chris Sedwick as North End started the half in a much brighter and more energetic manner.
Their early pressure was rewarded with a goal in the 53rd minute when Sedgwick and McKenna carved out a shooting chance for the previously quiet Nugent who beat Supple from 10 yards. It was Nugent's third goal against the Blues this season, the former Bury man having netted twice when the sides met at Portman Road in August.
The goal awoke the previously sombre home crowd as their side went looking for a second. Ormerod and then Callum Davidson sent balls across the face of the Town goal, while Danny Haynes was introduced for Fuller, the ex-North End man also less than pleased to be taken off.
Tyrone Mears curled a shot wide on the hour, then Nugent flicked Sedgwick's cross from the left beyond Supple and into the net to put his side in front. Nugent's fourth against the Blues this season effectively sealed the game against a 10-man Town side clearly tiring in the quagmire conditions and with De Vos and Westlake both apparently carrying injuries.
Nugent should have had his hat-trick moments later but the striker caught his studs as he attempted to divert a cross from the right into the net and was substituted soon afterwards. While the Preston striker had treatment De Vos again left the field for attention to his head wound.
Sub Patrick Agyemang confirmed what everybody already knew when he added a third in the 70th minute, out-pacing Sito down the left and beating Supple with a low shot.
Matt Richards put a rare Town shot over the bar as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Preston's Callum Davidson spent the final part of the game stood wide on the right wing having picked up an injury and with the Lilywhites having made all their substitutions.
But Town couldn't make too much out of the effectively restored balance of personnel and Danny Haynes picked a up a yellow card after complaining when a freekick was awarded against him when he had been caught by a high challenge by Matthew Hill.
Supple saved from sub Simon Whaley and then from a Daniele Dichio header when it seemed easier for the former QPR man to score than miss.
In injury time Owen Garvan joined Haynes in the book after complaining at another contentious refereeing decision.
A potentially difficult night was made virtually impossible for Town by the early red card which seemed very harsh. The Blues appeared to get the rough end of a very poor refereeing performance from Eddie Ilderton throughout.
Town did well to get themselves in front in the first half but after the break, as the side tired, and with Preston looking a more organised outfit, there was an inevitability about the home side's comeback.
The defeat probably spells the end of Town's brief flirtation with the play-offs for this season with only an extraordinary run of form coupled with some disastrous collapses amongst their rivals likely see them into the top six come the end of the season.
Town: Supple, Wilnis, Barron, Naylor, De Vos, Garvan, Currie (Sito 14), Juan (Westlake 27), Richards, Lee, Fuller (Haynes 56). Unused: Price, Magilton. Att: 14,507.
Photo: Action Images
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