Very nearly the perfect Christmas present for all North End fans on Boxing Day. A fantastic away performance against one of the best sides in the league, however, a deflected strike from Stuart Dallas with four minutes to go denied us the three points which would have seen us in 3rd place just six points behind Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Here are five things we learned from the 1-1 draw with Leeds…
Neil Got His Tactics Spot On
He had hinted we were going to have to come up with something different to challenge Leeds and from the off, we put them under pressure. We defended with a very high line with Brad Potts, Alan Browne and David Nugent pushing up at every opportunity to try and win the ball back.
It worked to great effect with the Leeds backline making sloppy passes and panicking. It set the tempo in the first half and we were duly rewarded with a goal. Leeds didn’t have a shot on target in the first half, which was only the second time at Elland Road this season that that has been the case.
All the team bought into Alex Neil’s plan and it was a thoroughly enjoyable first half to watch.
Contender for Goal of the Season
Where to start with our goal? It was beautiful. Sean Maguire tracking back well into his own half to make an inch-perfect tackle when Leeds were in a promising position with Mateusz Klich.
Then the pass from Tom Barkhuizen to Ben Pearson and then his run down the middle. Pearo’s one-two with Potts and then a perfectly weighted pass down the middle of the pitch for Barkhuizen to run on to.
A deft first touch from Barky to knock it out to the left to Alan Browne. The Irishman took it forward and hit a great left-footed strike past Kiko Casilla.
A great team goal, one which the Sky Sports pundits were in awe of. Browne’s first away goal of the season, and our first from open play away from home since the start of October.
The goal exemplified our tactics and high-pressure play. You’re unlikely to see a better counter-attacking goal this season in my opinion.
— From the Finney (@fromthefinney) December 26, 2019
We’ve Missed Ben Davies
Despite Patrick Bauer and Paul Huntington playing well in his absence, the return of Davies was welcomed. He showed what a calm presence he is at the back.
Patrick Bamford was kept quiet until his departure and numerous times Davies cut out attacking balls forward with interceptions turning over the possession. He is a top-class player.
Sooner or later he will be in the Premier League, hopefully, with us, and with the current English centre back options not offering much outside Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez, a sustained run in the top flight could lead to him getting an international call-up in the future.
As Leeds were pressing in the last quarter of the game, Davies threw himself at a cross to deny an almost certain goal at the back post from one of two players. It was a perfect example of what he gives us in that backline.
Clarke Had a Great Game
Super Tommy Clarke has missed a lot of this season, and this was only his second game back from a lengthy layoff. I must admit I was worried about him starting at right back up against Jack Harrison but Clarke had a superb game.
He made countless tackles, getting stuck in and stopping Leeds in their tracks. The attack was relentless in the second half, but our whole team stood strong and it was only a very unfortunate deflection via Ryan Ledson that gave Leeds their goal.
A top defensive effort overall against a great team should be applauded and as captain Tom Clarke led from the front.
We Have a Great Record Against the Top 6
Our displays against the rest of the top six so far this season show that our position is not a fluke and we deserve to be in the reckoning for the promotion places.
A win against Leeds would have added even further leverage to that, cutting the gap to them to six points but with a lot of games to play there’s plenty that can happen. We should have arguably won both our games against Leeds as on both occasions, we took the lead before conceding a late equaliser.
Against West Brom we deserved a point with an injury struck team, and would have got it but for an appalling refereeing decision. We’ve beaten Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford at home this season, the latter two fairly comfortably.
The aforementioned teams are all full of dangerous, quality players and we’ve played well against them. Of course, we still have to play four of the top six away from home and these will be tough games.
However, based off our excellent home form this season, I’d back us against anyone at home and we still have to play all the teams from 11th to 19th in the table. Every home game is crucial and we need to be picking up three points as often as possible.
This is the most promising first half to a season we’ve had for a while, so if you can, get down to Deepdale and support the lads starting with our game against Reading on the 29th and versus Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day.
Finally, part 2 of our podcast with Graham Alexander is out now. Give it a listen below.