|Mullet added 20:26 - Feb 24|
It’s not often one enjoys an afternoon sat flush on the face Bill Shankly. Bright sunshine and crisp coolness fell about the away end as Mick’s team marched out on to Deepdale. Bart in goal, wingbacks of Iorfa and Knudsen flanked Carter-Vickers, Chambers and Webster. Connolly was next Skuse with Carayol and Waghorn inverts out wide with Garner betwixt them for his first return to Preston since leaving for Scotland.
A 3-4-3 from Mick and former Canary coach Neil opted for a 4-2-3-1. As Pearson trotted into empty space from the kick off it seemed to set a tone. However, soon into head tennis and the game became a contest between two teams happy to nod play into space and nip at ankles, all whilst taking advantage of dispossession to gain territory and the upper hand.
It was Ipswich who started brightly, the opening minutes saw Preston at the mercy of the infectious Carayol. Capitalising on a high line and space to run at, the winger who missed Wednesday’s defeat with illness, was positively infectious and putting skidmarks all about the opposition box today.
Preston seemed to have far more corners than a labyrinth, but when one was easily beaten away, Waghorn played in the much-travelled Mustapha who flew toward us with the ball. Cutting in from the left he forced a smart stop from Rudd which dropped right back at his feet. Stabbing at it, he could not seize a goal as his poke inched past the post and off the hoardings. The dozen or so straining for Mick McCarthy to cuckold them were drowned out by applause and encouragement.
That was the warning, but Preston seemed not to be alarmed. If Skuse and Connolly were the central columns of our solid midfield, Pearson was a shaggy-haired piston and Browne who had headered over at one point unmarked, stood above most other Lillywhites.
Happy to take what Town would give away there was an interesting contest as their lone striker Moult cut a lesser figure than the hulking Hugill Town had cast eyes at so many times before. Off him was the support of Robinson who did little today. It was all about finding Barkhuizen and any room behind the Town line. There wasn’t much.
Another scuttling move started by Pearson saw Preston players surround the referee. A corner was given so we could only presume at the other end it had grazed a Town arm on the way out, as it definitely touched nothing else. Penalty or not, it seemed Preston wanted to hurt us from set pieces more than a set pattern of play.
Town meanwhile were running riot once they got on the front foot. Carayol was the one taking all the glances and chances as Skuse nodded him forward again. Taking the ball off a slower Woods, he ran into the clear down the left. With no chance of being felled, he arced his run and finish past Rudd for his first Town goal, and Town’s first goal. There were less scenes, more dioramas of joy as he pumped arms in recognition of the away end celebrating with him and his team mates.
It was the least Town deserved, and if we should have been two up it was again Carayol who took two on. Poking the ball between defenders he made his own through ball. Waghorn pressed down on the last defender and the 27 was clever enough to meet his run with a soft outstep. Closed down, and then closed out, the former goal machine could only engineer an audacious chip over.
In a close encounter where Preston could have been left for dead, Town again countered from their ponderous ‘play for a decision’ approach. Garner who had been applauded before the game and soon jeered at throughout it, missed the cross from Carayol. It came right the way through to Iorfa who had been less an attacking threat, more a tripping hazard for any Lancastrian daring to entangle legs with him. The wingback, got under it and crashed a decent effort off the bar.
Mick had once again out-thought the young and Budgie-scarred Scotsman. Nothing said it more than a double substitution well before halftime. Preston changed shape but not formation. The anonymous Robinson for Harrop the most telling of changes. Woods who gave the goal away came off for a big lump and Harrop began to drop deeper than Robinson and get on the ball as well as delivery duty.
Taking better corners and the free kick which resulted from Skuse taking the ball and in the ref’s view the man, on the edge of the area. Town fans from a distance were perplexed, Town players as incensed as home fans. Harrop looked the business but hit a brick wall as his Ronaldo run did not leave home fans loving its resultant kick.
Ipswich broke and Waghorn then rectified the card count. Again, we dispossessed a defender, but the former Ger, staggered over the halfway line after a clear tug and touch up job. He was incensed as the offender only got a yellow. The away end erupted into heated debates about “last men” and whether Davies should be seeing red like them. Pearson trotted into view as the ref got sight of it. Preston had a team that looked and sounded like throwbacks but played with a modern cynicism.
To say Town fans went under the stand feeling they could be at least 3 up, might be overdoing it because Preston maybe could have had a goal for every three we hoped to make.
When we resurfaced for the second half, the little blue pill of football excitement so missing from recent Town displays did not. Carayol had us all standing on end, but McCarthy replaced him with Hyam and Town shifted to a flat 3-5-2.
The highlights might suggest it was another game of two halves, two teams trading dominance and a constant fear of us losing, but it would be exaggeration. Preston however, did take the initiative whilst Town pleaded for long ball reliefs, and artful defensive nous.
If those who felt Town should be a man up were still complaining, they will recognise that Knudsen slipping over and taking his man out nastily on the shin could have seen the red card given against us. Luckily the officiating being poor at this level, and as inconsistent as many of the teams meant only a freekick was given.
Preston sent a searching ball in, but Bart dealt with it as he did many times today. Often his feet did most of the work thanks to the imperious aerial ability of Webster, and the reading of the game CCV is blessed with. Chambers the defensive baseball bat between his two towering counterparts in knocking away most threats. Both junior defenders ran each other close for MOTM, by virtue of the fact that Carayol only played half of it.
Harrop was also lucky to escape an early bath, after Garner had a needless nibble on halfway. The little 10 clearly raised an arm and shoved the soon to be carded striker backwards. The referee like most of his colleagues this season clearly unimpressed with Joe’s average antics.
When Neil sent on Horgan for his final sub, the diddy Damien Duff-a-like started on the left. Realising he was up against Iorfa, he and the more muscular Barkhuizen swapped. Town batted back much of the wing-work and redirected headers away. Our biggest weakness seemed to be nodding balls back into a crowded centre, rather than out of play.
With the balance of the game far finer than the lack of guile from an impressively hard to beat home side, it was less backs to the wall from the Blues, more second gear and second ball savvy that kept us in the lead. Bart had one smart save to make, when substitute Earl hit a fairly workmanlike curler at a comfortable height for the Pole to palm at. It was always likely to be a bad decision from a defender, or official that caught Town out.
In a game where the flag was raised more when the man reached the ball and not started his run it was no surprise to see Waghorn finally lose his temper. A petulant booking for throwing the ball away, he was marked down by home defenders and the referee for what seemed to be more than one offence. Fingers and cards raised alongside visiting tempers.
Town didn’t do much in the final third. Sears replaced Garner who again failed to find the net or finish 90 mins either due to injury or ill-discipline. When sat on the turf pointing to his knee, it was clear his game was up. Likewise, Connolly took a head injury in either half. Stooping onto Browne’s studs he was then clattered on half way late in the second period. Perhaps he should have been protected more, in some other games two head injuries would see a man rested at least. From the restart Preston dropped the ball back to Rudd in a desperately unsportsmanlike move.
You can see how an ex-canary would instil such a penchant for yellow in a side. Dirtier than the average pair of undercrackers in places, they were deserving of nothing come full time. Apart from a couple of lobs over the last man for Sears and Waghorn to chase, Rudd had a fairly easy half. Some felt him felling an onrushing Iorfa warranted another penalty decision at that end. But in fairness the Blues’ probing defender didn’t have the ball or much hope of catching it.
The game ended with Spence replacing Waghorn. A last assault from above meant Town dealt with the last gasps of hope with six recognised defenders, two defensive midfielders, Callum Connolly and ahead of him Freddie Sears. Someone joked that once again “Super” Mick McCarthy would sub himself on if he could. Having another no-nonsense centre back to head us into victory might not have been a bad shout.
As Chambers hugged and congratulated into a warm up for that long-awaited fist pump, Bart mouthed something celebratory at us. Chambers then mouthed something with an F-word in it. When he apologises tomorrow (for we all knew it was meant for us), most will undoubtedly forgive him.
A good feeling seeped out into Tom Finney Way but it was barely a few hundred strong, the locals who gazed up at the top six from a vantage slightly higher than ours must know that being hard to beat is good. Being doubled by a team in our disposition is not. They made that well known as we mingled towards car parks and motorways.
After the week we’ve had nothing could be more welcome than that win. Nothing could be more typical. Mick will be deserving of the praise he received in the toilets tonight, even if he was only in poster form to hear it.