North End went into their first-ever behind closed doors game at Deepdale knowing that they needed a big result after last Saturday’s disappointing late draw at Luton.
Alex Neil this week spoke about us potentially missing the home fans in terms of our intensity, and it appeared that way today. In my tactical preview, I spoke about Cardiff being happy to sit in a shape and make it hard for us to break them down, as well as their set-piece threat, and unfortunately, the game ended up playing out all too predictably.
So, onto the players.
Dec, although he conceded 3 goals, didn’t do too much wrong for me today. The first goal was a low header across him. There’s an argument he could’ve kept it out, but it would’ve been a great save. The second is a one on one, and it’s a good finish from Mendez Laing, and the third takes a deflection off Ben Davies. Aside from the goals, Dec made 3 saves and made 5 high claims, and looked fine.
Rating – 6
Did well to manage 77 minutes after missing large chunks of the “pre-season” with a knock. Fisher was easily beaten in the air at the back post for Cardiff’s first goal, something I’ve thought is one of his main weaknesses. Darnell won 5 of his 9 duels and largely kept a tricky customer in Junior Hoilett quiet throughout.
Going forward he was a little rusty, losing possession 18 times and completing only 18 passes. It was good to have Fisher back though – he offers width and a presence, and we conceded twice in the 15 minutes that he was off the pitch.
Rating – 6
I mentioned this on the podcast last week; Pat looks rusty. Aerially, you usually know what you’re going to get from the big German, but today he won only 3 aerial duels, up against Paterson and later Glatzel. On the ground, he was beaten far too easily for the 2nd and 3rd Cardiff goals. He was a yard behind the play when Mendez-Laing stole through to score, and then he was physically bullied by Glatzel who went on the score the late 3rd.
In possession, he was very safe, but he did ok, losing possession only 5 times. In the 180 minutes since the lockdown, he has looked a fraction of his former self, though.
Rating – 4
Similarly, to Bauer, Ben isn’t fully up to speed. He made 9 clearances compared to Pat’s 4 and won 6 of his 9 aerial duels, which is something we’d usually expect from Bauer.
Positionally, Davies was found out for Cardiff’s second, getting drawn out of position as he moved towards Tomlin, creating space for Mendez-Laing to burst into as Bauer struggled to get across. For Cardiff’s 3rd, Ben turned away slightly and deflected the shot past Rudd, and he turned away from McManaman’s shot last week – is this a weakness of Ben’s?
In possession, the Cumbrian isn’t sharp yet, completing only 58% of his passes. Yes, he is usually more ambitious than Bauer in possession, but again, he looks a shadow of his pre lockdown self.
Rating – 5
Hughesy, despite his obvious limitations, did ok for me today. Aerially he’s always strong, he won 2 aerials in the first minute today and went on to win a staggering 14 of his 16 aerial duels, against a very physical Cardiff side. He also won 4 of his 6 ground duels and wasn’t at fault with any of the Bluebirds’ goals.
Hughes’ issue has always been going forward, and his lack of attacking width does hold us back. The Welshman lost possession 31 times today, running out of ideas once he crosses the halfway line, and completing only 15 accurate passes. He offers us defensive stability but he is very limited going forward.
Rating – 6
58 touches, 35 passes completed (85%), 5 tackles and 6 of his 9 ground duels won – this is what we’ve come to expect from Pearson. His heatmap shows his usual busy self, covering pretty much every blade of grass in the middle third.
Tactics limit him, but I wish he’d show a little more with his forward passing, which we know he’s capable of. I think he tailed off towards the end, as he tired, but it was a solid showing from the midfielder who I expect only has 7 games left in a PNE shirt.
Rating – 6
I’m a huge fan of Browney, but I judge games objectively, and he really struggled today. Sitting deeper than DJ, alongside Pearson, Browne has always struggled to advance the ball from deeper areas, as he is fairly limited on the ball. I feel like his strengths are picking up scraps and making things happen around the box, and he didn’t get to do that too much today, although his blocked shot did lead to Johnson’s equaliser.
Only 1 ground duel won, 21 possession losses, one leading to the free-kick that led to Cardiff’s opener, and only 25 accurate passes. Browney, for me, isn’t suited to that no.6 role. A poor showing today and it meant we struggled to retain any sustained possession.
Rating – 5
A great finish with his weak foot for his 12th goal of the season. 3 key passes in the game, more than any other North End player, and his pressing in the first half led to a couple of dangerous transitions for the Lilywhites.
I feel like he needs more from the players around him as when he picked up the ball in those dangerous areas, the movement ahead of him was limited. He also won 5 of his 7 duels today, something that he’s been criticised for in the past. DJ is a great player for us and has been consistent all season.
Rating – 7
He had a great chance, albeit on his weaker foot, very early in the game, but I thought Barky struggled to make the usual impact. This was probably because he excels in a game of transitions, and with Cardiff set in a deep defensive shape, he wasn’t afforded that space today. When he did front up Joe Bennett 1 on 1, Barkhuizen usually created space, but his final ball was poor.
Tom completed 4 passes during his 70 minutes, with that very early shot his only meaningful attacking contribution. If anything, Barky will suit Wednesday’s game more, against more expansive opposition.
Rating – 5
24 touches, the least of any starting player. 2 shots off target. Bullied in the air by Morrison, Jayden won 40% of his aerial duels. Badly lacking mobility, he limits us and I feel Neil played right into Cardiff’s hands today. Stockley really struggled to make an impact, as he has done whenever afforded a start by Alex Neil this season.
He gave away 4 fouls, made 8 passes, and generally struggled to offer anything positive. Yes, the quality into him wasn’t the best, but good strikers at this level make things out of everything. Stockley struggles to get off the ground, badly lacks mobility, and rarely looks like scoring. He wouldn’t have started for us in League One, and that is a damning indictment of what Alex Neil is working with.
Rating – 3
Before his goal at Luton last week, I was saying to podcast host, Jake that I’d have hooked Sinclair at half time. About 25 minutes into today’s game, was saw Alex Neil desperately engaging with the 31-year-old, probably to try and spring him into life. Sinclair has pedigree and quality, we all know that, but does he have the desire and application?
25 touches in 85 minutes today is an incredibly low amount, only Stockley of the starting 11 had less. 10 accurate passes, again only Stockley had less. Scotty lost possession 8 times, which is maybe expected of a wide player, but he’s not interested in trying to beat his full-back and doesn’t look to link up with Hughes outside him. Granted, he scored a fantastic goal last week, and I’d have him on the pitch because he does have that quality, but we need to see more from him. We need to find a way to get him into the game because we’re crying out for quality at the moment. I’m not sure if his heart is in it.
Rating – 4
Struggled to make a sustained impact in his 27 minutes on the pitch, which is usually the case for our subs. The Irishman was busy though, playing in Browne for the goal, with 9 touches and 6 passes. No shots though – he is struggling in that regard, probably why he was benched today.
Rating – 6
Gally came on and made 13 passes in his 20 minutes, almost as many as Sinclair and Stockley made COMBINED in their time on the pitch. He lost possession only twice but struggled to unlock Cardiff. Athleticism is Gally’s main weakness now though, and Cardiff moved through our midfield a lot easier once he entered play.
He did ok, but Alex Neil’s main issue is finding the right situations for the 35-year-old to make an impact in.
Rating – 6
Potts, Harrop and Nugent. Limited time on the pitch for these three and all semblance of shape had gone by then, but Potts did well to set up Nugent who had a great chance to make it 2-2, but shockingly, he blazed high and wide.
Would you ever back Nugent to score again? I wouldn’t.