With fixtures coming in thick and fast at the moment there was a predictable ‘B’ shift look about the side, with De Vries getting his first start since The Dingles cup match in September, and Collins giving Reidy a well-earned rest to deputise with the captain’s armband. Fair enough, though it would be an ideal opportunity for the lesser featured players to make their mark in a game Preston were definitely up for. It took us 60 years to win at Deepdale when we finally managed it (twice) in the 2010/11 season – I hoped it would not be another period similar in length before we managed it again.
FA Cup 4th Round Replay, Wednesday 5th Feb 2014, Kick-off 1945hrs|
Preston North End 0 - 2 Nottingham Forest
|Weather/Conditions||You could describe it as tit for tat after the soggy conditions experienced in the City Ground leg of this tie. To say the weather tonight was positively foul is something of an understatement.|
|Away fan experience||Not that I’m biased, since this has been a home from home venue for me in recent years, but visiting Deepdale is easily one of the most pleasant away venues, especially in Lancashire. Friendly locals, welcoming pub at Sumners at the top end of Sir Tom Finney Way with cheap and cheerful chippy tea served through the hatch. Inside the stadium the biggest dilemma for me was to sit low down and risk getting wet, or move higher up and watch the entire game on my feet along with the persistent standers. I chose the former and just about managed to escape the worst of the rain on row 10, though it was very cold. Some 850 travelling fans crowded into one half of the Shankly Kop with an excellent view and rattled through quite a repertoire of songs, though inevitably I had to refrain from the ‘I wanna go home/Small town in Blackpool’ dig out of respect for my home town. Too bad there were a few too many anti-D3rby chants creeping in once more (it’s not getting behind our own, is it boys?), though with the real thing looming I guess some felt it was worth getting some practice in.|
|Facilities||Helpful stewards, above-average fare on offer, decent pies and easily the most polite service from behind the kiosks experienced so far this season.|
|Programme||A typical slimmed-down cup-tie version of PNE’s The One And Only, on sale at reduced price of £2. One or two interesting bits of text and plenty of pictures. Susceptible to turning into pulp as demonstrated when I got to the bit featuring a full-page picture of Simon Grayson when the first of many passing showers totally ruined the photo. Saved me a job, I suppose.|
Not a chance. PNE predictably reacted by intensifying their attacks, especially after the break, though it was Billy who made the earlier changes by throwing on Radi and Pato just six minutes into the second half. This did have the desired effect of us asking a few more questions on Rudd’s goal, Cox actually finding the back of the net on one occasion though dubiously ruled out for offside. At the other end however it was backs-to-the-wall stuff to repel sustained attacks rarely seen since that epic 0-0 encounter at Highfield Road in 2001 when we defended like tigers having been controversially reduced to nine men. Nail-biting stuff didn’t come close to describing it tonight, and we were probably lucky to have a Halford handball appeal turned down, whilst Lascelles made an outstanding block to deny the unpopular Kevin Davies at close range with the Town End fans screaming all around. Joe Garner joined in late on and made his presence felt by hitting the post at close range. Never has a one-goal lead looked so fragile, yet we seemed totally incapable of doing anything about it, even with a strategy of sitting deep and trying to draw them forward before hitting them on the break. Finally, in the last minute of stoppage time, it actually worked when Pato got on the end of a decent clearance with PNE’s defence in total disarray. A brilliant lay-off for Henderson (on for Cox) who latched on to the ball and without breaking his stride (and he was going some, believe me) lashed a brilliant low shot past Rudd to give us the unlikeliest of 2-0 wins. Totally against the run of play, but I guess that’s football at its cruellest. We were still mid-way through ‘That Lovin’ Feeling’ when the final whistle went. Job done.|
Quite simple, really. PNE attacked (as they tend to do when at home) and we defended. No, it was more extreme than that. They positively BATTERED us pretty much the whole ninety whilst we sat back and let them run at us in wave after wave, failing to properly clear or allow Cox to advance with minimal support it was only a matter of time before the ball, and with it a PNE attack roared on by 9000 noisy fans (and some noise it was, especially considering the ground was half-empty) came sweeping back. Of course this was far from the full story, because on 18 minutes a rare corner up their end gave us sufficient opening to take the lead. The ball was swept in, and good passes involving Mackie and Lascelles found Mackie in enough space 20 yards out to unleash an absolute screamer that nestled nicely in the top corner. A sucker punch we’ve been on the receiving end of often enough, even this season. Totally against the run of play, but early enough in the game for things to still be considered as balanced so long as we could build on this and have the game put to bed by HT. And with all that in mind it was still a classy goal, a sure candidate for goal of the season.
|Highlights||Two superbly taken goals without reply taking the unbeaten run to 14 – that’s probably about it. Don’t think there were many points for style awarded tonight.|
|Lowlights||News filtering through just before kick-off of Henri Lansbury’s injury. That on top of David Vaughan’s how much more bad luck are we going to get in this department – or maybe that should read the treatment table?|
|Hero||Mackie lived up to his star billing in tonight’s programme as ‘the one to watch’ and capped an impressive performance with a stunning 20-yarder. Credit also goes to De Vries for his heroics in keeping PNE out, ably assisted by the magnificent Lascelles.|
|Zero||PNE’s Kevin Davies drew plenty of abuse from the travelling support as expected. Recently returned from a three-match suspension he really ought to have been starting another one after tonight after a dirty challenge on Cox for which he wasn’t even booked.|
|Referee||Jon Moss – One could argue we rode our luck at times, especially with PNE having a strong shout for a penalty in the 2nd half for a suspected Halford handball, though equally I’m reliably informed that Cox was onside for the goal that was ruled out. Overall, I think we were a tad lucky – I just hope we’ve not used it all up yet.|
|Entertainment Value||7/10: There’s no denying this really had everyone on the edge of their seats, though for the 850 of us in the Shankly Kop it was one of the most nail-biting encounters witnessed for a long time.|
|Conclusion||Every credit to PNE who will feel they were the better side by far tonight – which they were. Sympathy and empathy too, because we know all too well what can happen when you can’t turn dominance into goals. Preston have been on a decent run of late and I really hope they will be in the Championship next season where they deserve to be (note I’ve not said ‘see them’ – I wonder why…).|