Not the prettiest of matches by any stretch of the imagination but North End ground out a 2-1 victory against a Luton Town side who spent the majority of the game cheating and were time-wasting almost from the start of the second half.
The Lilywhites are now up to 3rd in the table thanks to Jayden Stockley’s late winner in the 84th minute when it looked like we would have to settle for a frustrating point. A much needed 6 points at home this week ahead of two tough away games over the Christmas period. Here are five things we learned from the game on Saturday.
We Lacked a Creative Spark Upfront
Saturday’s game saw Alex Neil opt for the same attacking front 3 with Alan Browne pushed up into the number 10 role. Despite getting an early goal through Paul Gallagher’s tap in after a missed penalty, we struggled to carve open Luton.
We enjoyed a lot of possession in the first half and waited patiently for an opening. In truth, there weren’t enough runs in behind the defence but the Hatters were sitting very deep and made things as difficult as possible for us. Despite some good balls into the box, in particular from Andrew Hughes, the second goal just didn’t seem like it was coming. As the game went on, this became more and more frustrating as we chased a winner.
Neil switched things around up top in the second half but we still didn’t look like scoring. The winner eventually came from a very scrappy pinball-like action in their box which seemed to take an age to find the back of the net.
Are we lacking ideas at the top end of the pitch or are we in need of a bit more quality in January or both?
Rudd Kept us in the Game
Luton never looked like pushing for a winner at 1-1 and were happy to waste time on numerous occasions. However, when Ben Pearson was shrugged off the ball by Harry Cornick, the Luton attacker had the goal at his mercy and all the time in the world.
Declan Rudd stayed on his feet as long as possible, stood strong and saved his effort with an outstretched leg. A huge moment in the game and possibly the season because Graeme Jones’ side would probably have gone on to win the game after that as Neil said in his post-match interview.
Rudd also made a good save shortly after this when Pelly Ruddock hit an effort across the goal. Rudd does have his critics but he had a good game today and kept us in it at a crucial time. Credit where it’s due, Declan. Long may it continue.
Neil’s Substitutes Were Hit and Miss
We were crying out for a change to mix things up in the attacking third in the second half and Neil did not wait long to make a change. He brought Josh Harrop on in the 56th minute but I don’t think it was correct to take David Nugent off.
Again 10 minutes later Tom Barkhuizen was introduced to bring some pace into the game but taking Alan Browne off raised a few eyebrows. No one seemed to have a set position after that with Barkhuizen looking like he went up front initially but it didn’t pay off. The obvious choices to come off were Seani Maguire and Billy Bodin with the latter finally being brought off for eventual match-winner Jayden Stockley.
The former Luton man has changed a game or two off the bench for us in his time here and it was his calm and collected finish that got us the 3 points in the end.
The Ball Boys Played Their Part
Luton’s time-wasting antics were painful to watch, not to mention Kazenga Lua Lua’s embarrassing dive which luckily didn’t deceive the referee and led me to jump out of my seat and direct a few choice words at the winger.
However, when the tables turned and we took the lead we weren’t in a rush to take goal kicks and throw-ins ourselves and rightly so. On a couple of occasions when the ball went behind our goal, Rudd told the ball boys to slow it down.
One boy let a Luton player walk all the way up to him before giving the ball back. On another occasion when it was a goal kick Luton defender Sonny Bradley ran to the ball boy to try and get the game moving and the young lad simply shook his head at him and waited until Declan Rudd was ready for the ball. Fair play kid!
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) December 15, 2019
Hunts Loves It
The Cumbrian Cannavaro has come back into the team almost seamlessly. He’s had to play in some difficult games since his return to the side after sitting out for the first four months of the season.
Arguably he was the man of the match against West Brom and Fulham, two of the strongest teams in the league, and on Saturday he was solid at the back again. He won some huge headers and in the first half, he played a sumptuous 60-yard pass with his left foot down the wing for Nugent to run onto. He did give away the penalty but having watched it back it was a harsh decision.
However, what was most enjoyable was seeing him being the last man left on the pitch at the end of the game, clapping all the fans, punching the badge on his chest, clearly delighted at the win as the fans all sang his song.
He loves this club and you can tell how much each win means to him. It’s great to see and hopefully we’ll see scenes like that plenty more times this season.
Speaking of players who love the club, give the latest episode of From the Finney Meets… a listen. We sat down with former North End legend and current Salford City manager, Graham Alexander and had a chat about his time in PR1. Hit play on the player below to give it a listen. Oh, here’s our player ratings piece from the Luton game, too.