Another commanding home performance from the Lilywhites made it 9 games unbeaten at Deepdale this season with a 3-1 victory over Huddersfield Town. The game was all but over by half time after two early goals from Jayden Stockley and Alan Browne who both opened their accounts for the season. Paul Gallagher then scored our 8th penalty in 16 games to put the game beyond doubt, despite a late rise from Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield Town.
We head into the international break in 2nd place with a tough period of games to come when we return. But it’s a great time to be a North End fan right now and it’s time to get on Deepdale and support your local side. Anyway, here are 5 things we learned from Saturday’s game.
Central Midfield is our Strongest Area
Despite missing the key duo of Daniel Johnson and Ben Pearson on Saturday, our midfield three did not suffer against a Huddersfield side arriving on the back of a 7 game unbeaten run.
Ryan Ledson was the obvious replacement for Ben Pearson with his usual combative display stunting the Huddersfield midfield. He was perhaps lucky to only receive a yellow card for a late, high challenge on Tommy Elphick in the first half which led to the defender having to come off. Ledson can sometimes be a bit rash with his challenges but we need that bite in the centre of the park when Pearson is out.
One thing you can’t knock him for though is that he rarely puts in a below-par performance and we are more than comfortable with him in the team. Of course, Gallagher came in for DJ as expected and put in one of his best displays of the season so far. His free-kick led to the first goal and he emphatically put away the penalty in the second half as well. He played some beautiful passes which opened up the game and deservedly got the man of the match award.
When you think there’s also Josh Harrop, Tom Bayliss and Brad Potts who can play in the middle, the depth is astounding and the future is certainly bright for us.
Jayden Stockley Has His Confidence Back
After a tough start to the season, not even making the matchday squad on a couple of occasions, Jayden has now had a few games to show what he is all about and you can certainly say that he has taken his chance.
After changing the game as an early substitute against Blackburn Rovers a few weeks back and then playing the full 90 minutes against Charlton, the former Exeter striker scored his first goal of the season against Huddersfield in another promising display. A goal was needed, and he took it well, reacting first to Gally’s free-kick bouncing back off the post to head in the opener.
He’s clearly a popular character in the changing room with the squad overjoyed for him in their celebrations. His confidence grew as he backed himself with further opportunities trying a half volley in the first half and a few other efforts in the second half. He always plays with a smile on his face and puts a good shift in, I don’t think I would be alone in saying I’ve been surprised by his recent performances but long may it continue.
It’s also worth noting that even with him upfront we don’t just restrict ourselves to long-ball tactics, we do get the ball down and play some good stuff.
Browne Has His Goal
I alluded last week to the fact that Alan Browne was in need of a goal to boost his own confidence and he duly got that on Saturday. A well-taken volley from Tom Barkhuizen’s cross and hopefully the Irishman can kick on now. He played the furthest forward out of the midfield three and with DJ out of the side he had to push on, put pressure on the defence and take his chances.
He still looks far from the player of last season but he does seem to be improving game by game. It’s also worth noting that without Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington in the side, Alan Browne takes on the captains armband in Gally’s absence which usually ends up happening every game. With this comes extra responsibility that he has to take on and let’s remember he’s only 24.
He’s also been used in a variety of positions and is obviously highly valued by Alex Neil. So perhaps Browne is offering us more this season just not via the goal-scoring method we became used to last season.
We Need to Watch Our Yellow Card Count
In the last two games we’ve collected 9 yellow cards in total. 5 against Charlton and 4 against Huddersfield. Some more deserved than others but I think a lot of them could have been avoided.
We seem to pick up a lot for dissent and whilst Darnell Fisher does win the side a lot of free-kicks he always ends up getting in scraps and battles with other players that usually result in a booking. Bookings add up and we don’t want to end up having suspensions at key times of the season or bringing unwanted attention our way from the powers that be.
We certainly can’t carry on getting 4-5 cards in every game and perhaps Neil needs to have a word with the players. We have a specific style, we like to rough up other teams and we do win a lot of soft free kicks which can sometimes backfire in the long run.
As we used to see with Jordan Hugill, a target man can often be on the wrong end of decisions and Stockley could end up picking up a few more bookings for his aerial challenges as well.
The Belief is Growing
Each win seems to be more important than the last and the fans and the players understand how much each goal means. The game against Huddersfield seemed like it could have been a potential banana skin on paper but that wasn’t the case.
DJ and Pearson were both out and we were up against a side bang in form under their new manager Danny Cowley who came into the game 7 unbeaten and with a manager of the month award under his belt, yet we dispatched Huddersfield with relative ease. Something we are becoming used to seeing at Deepdale.
That’s what teams challenging at the top do; keep on picking up the wins. 31 points at this stage of the season is huge and beyond what many of us could have dreamed of. However, post-international break, we have 2 tough away games against Derby’s County and Hull City. But you would expect 4 points at least is a real possibility and that should keep us in touch with the top 2.
Then comes a crunch game against the current leaders of the Championship at the start of December when West Bromwich Albion come to Deepdale on a Monday night in front of the Sky cameras.
The atmosphere will be at fever pitch for that one, and if we’re both still occupying the top two positions at that point it promises to be one of the biggest games we’ve had in recent times at Deepdale. It would be fantastic to see Deepdale full and rocking on what is likely to be a cold Monday night but it could prove to be a pivotal moment for Alex Neil and his men.