|Mullet added 19:40 - Jan 28|
The unworkable back three, was back to a back four ahead of Bart. Knudsen, Emmanuel, Skip and Berra. Skuse partnered debutant Diagouraga in a deep two. Lawrence left, Ward right. Sears ahead of him with Pitman his partner. It was a deeply effective combination.
When the game kicked off Gallagher made good use of a fortunate ricochet off his and Knudsen’s shins down the right in the opening minute. It felt like his last foray forward, as Lawrence pinned him back and all that was left for Preston was the skills of McGeady.
The Russian speaking Celt, looked a cut above as his first attempt at leaving Emmanuel miles behind saw his wonderful feet dance over the line. The second time after just seven minutes, saw Town target Hugill for the first time slip between centrebacks to head over the bar when a goal looked certain.
If it sounds like a bad start for Town it wasn’t. The Blues played the ball across the cold, wet and greasy surface with aptitude. North End meanwhile were happy to chip and chop and nod what little they could get their bodies on forward. But enjoying greater chances.
In a match that was oddly attritional, both sides countered quickly and often. The loaned #37 from Leeds looked more belly pork than sirloin, but put his frame in front of everyone’s eyes with an intelligent use of space and timing. This allowed Skuse to sit just ten yards from him at all times, and play with those ahead of him.
To call the Lilywhites dirty seems sour. Cynical, maybe cowardly. Every time a blue shirt went past them, out went their heels from Preston toes. When Skuse intercepted a ball wonderfully just in front of the half way line he had three open options ahead of him. He soon tasted dirt. Right back Vermijl the worth recipient of the first caution after the fourth or so of these offences.
While young Josh struggled to find his position defensively, he was picked out by Toumani just the once with a lovely flighted ball that reminded us all what an athlete the kid is. With the support of Ward, it sprung a trap that saw Sears look looking like the best outlet on the pitch. Unfortunately, not for the first time today, the deadly touch of his early games looks to have numbed.
With both sides fielding a 442 that dipped in the middle, it was Town’s central pairing that looked the better. In a game where one wondered if Lawrence would be allowed the space to run, it took just 15 or so minutes not to matter. Picked out wonderfully, he beat the entire home right side, who were steps apart. Dancing inward from the corner as he does, he slapped the ball across every Preston face and into the far side of the net. It looked impossible. For the star of the season, it was typically dazzling.
In the massed celebrations of the 600 travelling fans, I’m sure I spotted some grudgingly claps across the pitch from the Deepdale regulars.
Once Lawrence got back off his knees, Town got going again. It seemed barely soon after he was mimicking his goalscoring movements only to get further into the box. Definite contact, a definite wobble from the winger. Had a penalty been given the nervy home side would have erupted and crumbled like you’d expect most in Tom’s position to have done.
Pitman and Sears didn’t look like a proper strike force. Individually both unlocked the defence with clever touches. When Preston again caused problems in the Town box, Knudsen rifled with his weaker foot clear, picking out Lawrence perfectly. Sears was sent through and with one touch too many failed to find the finish.
It was a scenario replicated time and again. As both Skuse and Pitman allowed the former Hammer to take a touch palpably too heavy to get off the strike he deserved. Meanwhile Preston who were all McGeady, nearly took the game back to Ipswich through Hugill. If Chambers isn’t familiar with the #25 yet, he’d rather not be shown like he was at Playford Rd. let alone in a match scenario.
A routine back pass to Bart, during another spell of short game in the defence saw the forward bidding for the loose ball out of nowhere. In a half where the skipper had put his body on the line, and blocked and barracked his way into quelling a decent attack, it would have been a cruel concession to give.
As pot-shots flew over Bart’s goal, Pitman was squaring the ball down for anyone he could find. Sears again went close as drifted across the final third, perhaps too familiarly out wide with a touch past defender but not keeper. The near post and near miss colluding to keep Town’s lead at half time to a single strike.
There was a moment of panic when Hugill looked to get involved in a sure-fire equaliser. The man watched closer than usual by away fans couldn’t get out of the way of a goalward lash from the busier of the Whites’ central midfielders Pearson. The tenacious #4 in one of his better moments volleyed another cross from the left sweetly, only to be left bitterly disappointed by the unwanted assistance of his teammate.
Despite double marking Lawrence and targeting Josh, it felt like PNE didn’t expect this from Town. It was a game which scrapped and harried into a dogfight all too often, but had some passages of streaming forward thinking play from both sides. One comical dogfight between McGeady and Diagouraga saw the Suffolk staffie lumbering the Irish setter away from goal off his stride just enough to shank his shot and claim foul. When he tried similar with young Josh the jeers for the penalty appeal where pure pantomime.
On 37 minutes a heartening Town applause broke out. A young fan had asked his mother who had died tragically young be remembered this way. I hope if he wasn’t there, he knows it was observed impeccably as he requested and brings him some comfort.
The second half started with Grayson clearly unhappy. His charges came at Town with everything they had, it started to look like it might be enough. Ward who had been steady and Sears who had been every ready seemed not able to spark as often.
Pitman too looked leggy one minute and then either frontman would take centre stage as if resurrected by the promise of glory. Not since the days of empire has an expeditionary force looked so bedraggled one moment and brave the next.
When the threat of home advantage looked to tell, Knudsen and Berra were unlucky to be wrongfooted in the slippery conditions by a crisp short pass. With the goal there, all the lively Callum Robinson could strike was our steely Pole. Back in the side and back in our hearts.
It marked a series of corners where disappointment looked inevitable. Set pieces swung across the defence, and one header that was certain to go in hit a blue body for another corner. In the midst of this bombardment Town could only cannon the matchball off bodies and out of play as the front end looked like grinding to a halt.
Diagouraga exited on the hour mark. Lifting the away end and his opposite number into the air with superb elevation. His lack of match sharpness showing as he bluntly dumped a Preston player on the break. A poor use of advantage not for the first time cost the home side initiative whilst the French-African escaped a sure booking and off to the bosom of Mick and Terry.
French-Mauritian Bru kept up the steady marching legion quality of the midfield. At the same time a second near-Tractor boy came on for the home side. Horgan replaced the lively but ineffective Robinson and two out and out Irish widemen occupied the full backs. Surprisingly small but a neat package of pace of passing nonetheless, it helped open the game and put pressure on Bart and his barrier like defence.
If Town looked to have weathered the storm in piddling conditions, Pitman would continue the splattering attacking nous. His last action saw him curling an effort across goal and just over the bar. Maxwell was relieved as the thud of the hoardings and realisation he’d casually misjudged just how close the shot had been to beating him.
Lawrence’s corners and freekicks had not been their usual high quality. Town had thrown everyone forward gallantly all game, but this often was met with resistance and running. When Pitman got the ball from Berra’s head via much better struck attempt from the quarter circle, the ex-Cherry couldn’t top Town’s performance. Awkward bobbles and touches left a frustrating finish for all involved.
When McGoldrick replaced him soon after the whole crowd lifted. Well one of the four sides did. The other three were just kept on their toes. David’s caress set alight the game, and lifted the siege mentality that Ipswich seemed to fall into.
Preston obviously felt they lacked fight as they brought on Jermaine Beckford minutes before. The experience and quality amongst their ranks, perhaps explains their current position and form with little surprise.
Soon another misfiring forward would be withdrawn as the man who should have been MOTM gave way to new man Moore. A second Northern sub bow soon showed that the first of two signings plucked from non-league was far more than an elevated cranium for fans to peer at through this window.
Although Preston had by now put Makienok alongside Hugill and Beckford to create a triumvirate of big, physical brute force, it was the magic of McGeady that continued to make them tick. Kieffer meanwhile just lingered in the corner of nervous Lancastrian eyes. Coming on before one was taken he shook up the box and caused a scramble from the word go.
If Town had been a tight and ticking grenade of 4-4-2 orthodoxy, Grayson had moved to a weird 4-3-3 that caused Ipswich problems. What had been a crucial defensive two, was now a defensive Skuse and floaty Bru. With the game ticking away, Lawrence was let go, but understandably frustrated as the ball forward that left him clean through with nothing but grass and the whole half his, skipped off the ground out for throw. All thanks to way Bru launched it forward.
It’s the little things that count. When a rare run for Lawrence saw with skid from left to the centre only to disappointingly drip the ball into the waiting gloves of Maxwell, one wondered if one would be enough?
Skuse was again far further forward than usual in support and Bru not at action stations either. It was a sign that our rigid shape was as wonky as the Deepdale lines. When Maxwell clearly handled outside the box, thanks to his feet being on the line and his hands in front of them the linesman shook his flag as if it were a brolly not an implement of justice.
When the goalkeeper immediately launched it forward to a waiting Makienok, Berra had to put his body on the line this time to send McGeady’s whipping drive crashing off course. Somewhere in the brooding greying of the already pale conditions an evil stirred.
Whilst Moore and McGoldrick made an odd couple and Ward and Lawrence decent supporting characters, you sensed Town didn’t know what to do. The brass ring needed to take three precious points in a place that felt just south of Mordor, wasn’t apparent.
Another end to end exchange saw Knudsen overwrought. Two on one and the Dane didn’t know what to do, when he did Horgan cut at goal with a cross. Hugill who had stood between Chambers and Berra all game, no longer had either standing in his way.
Sweeping home from the middle of the box at close range, it seemed hard to believe. The man Mick wanted hit the Bullseye as we got a look at what he could have won.
The quest for a rare away win, had come to an end. It felt like the leveller was deep into injury time. But a full minute or more saw another handful added. It was clear Town didn’t know what to do, or where to go. Previous efforts to keep the ball in the corners and away from danger were now looking like scarring evidence of self-inflicted harm.
When the whistle came so did the relief and regret in pulsating waves. A tangible exhalation from everyone, for different reasons, arose. Before the match a draw would have felt like a reasonable aspiration. On balance, it was more an amicable end.
Another game, another day, even another shot and the result could have been so different. Town looked so much better after those drunk on the hope in August, might have felt an end to the perpetual hangover. Now we’re left with a dull throb and nausea knowing that sooner or later, it’ll be over and better again.
runningout added 23:22 - Jan 29
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