A very enjoyable evening watching North End on Wednesday night and it’s not often we’ve been able to say that this season. The 3-0 win over Middlesbrough was deserved and in truth, it could and should have been more.
The loss of Ben Pearson wasn’t felt and there was a return to the side for Darnell Fisher and Andrew Hughes as well which was a welcome sight. Here are five things we learned from the Middlesbrough game.
A Dominant Display
Neil Warnock’s teams are never easy to beat. He’s managed to turn around a Boro team who were struggling last season under Jonathan Woodgate, and they have had a decent start to the season without spending too much on transfers. Players like George Saville, Jonny Howson, and Britt Assombalonga are very experienced at this level but we still managed a comfortable victory.
It was a cagey first half, with chances for both teams, but I would say that we just about shaded it all things considered. However, we really stepped things up in the second half.
We eventually got the breakthrough via a goal that I don’t think Brad Potts knew much about. It looked like it was Andrew Hughes’ goal at first, but it did in fact take a vital deflection off Potts to divert it past Marcus Bettinelli. After that, it was a bit of an end to end game, but our substitutes helped contribute to two more goals.
It could have been more with Scott Sinclair hitting the bar, and Jayden Stockley blasting a volley wide. It was great to keep a clean sheet, and score three goals from open play.
Stockley vs. Riis
The addition of Emil Riis this season has allowed us a few different options up front. The Dane, Stockley, and Seani Maguire all bring something different to the side and hopefully Louis Moult will still be able to play some part this season. I think a lot of people see Stockley and Riis as similar players because of their stature but that is simply not the case.
I thought Jayden had a great game on Wednesday night. The 27-year-old caused problems for the opposition defence on just his third start of the season. Of course, his miss following Sinclair’s saved shot was poor and he knew it himself and he was substituted straight away for Riis. Whilst Riis made an obvious impact with a goal and an assist after coming on, let’s not take anything away from Stockley’s display.
Both are capable of making an impact as a starter or from the bench. Riis showed great composure, with lovely control, a nice turn and a perfectly weighted pass for Sinclair’s goal. He also took his own goal very well with a powerful finish past Bettinelli. Stockley won eight aerial battles in the game, and also helped out in defence at times.
Promising from both strikers, and I wonder if they could actually make a decent partnership up top together?
Great To Have Fisher and Hughes Back
We’re used to having Darnell Fisher in and out of the side due to injuries and suspensions however, it was good to have him available on Wednesday night whilst also allowing captain Alan Browne to take up his more role in central midfield.
Fisher actually had a tough game with Marvin Johnson causing him problems all night. A lot of Boro’s play came down our right-hand side but to no avail.
Hughes returned for his first game since the end of October and kept Duncan Watmore who had scored two goals the week before, very quiet. He thought he had scored the opening goal after a very strong left-footed strike from the edge of the area, but it was eventually, correctly, given to Brad Potts.
Hughes perhaps doesn’t get much recognition from the fans, he’s a solid if not spectacular option in this league and is certainly better than playing Joe Rafferty out of place there. It was also good to see Josh Earl make his first appearance in the league for us for over 18 months after a couple of loan spells last season and some injury setbacks this season.
Brad Potts Had a Brilliant Game
As expected Brad Potts came in for the missing Daniel Johnson. He seems to be a favourite of Alex Neil’s and was always likely to get the nod over Josh Harrop and Tom Bayliss. It was a typical game from Potts; strong on the ball, direct running and it was capped off with a goal.
He was my man of the match and stepped up in the absence of DJ and Ben Pearson in the middle of the park. We needed him to, and he delivered. He has an abundance of energy and was key in helping us get from one end of the pitch to the other which was needed when the game became stretched in the second half.
3 Goals at Deepdale For the First Time in Over a Year
We’ve scored goals away from home for fun this season, but our troubles at Deepdale have been well documented. Our overall record at Deepdale in 2020 has been poor, just 14 goals scored in 17 games before Wednesday night, and 10 defeats in that time too.
Not since November last year had we scored three goals at home when we beat Huddersfield Town 3-1. All three goals came from open play as well and we could have ended up with a few more on the night. The second and third goals were both well-worked, and great finishes from Scott Sinclair and Emil Riis.
Tom Barkhuizen probably should have scored in the first half after a lovely lay-off from Stockley. There was also easier chances for Sinclair and Jayden that I have already mentioned.
All in all, it was an impressive attacking display from us. We all know Neil Warnock puts a lot of emphasis on his defence, so those three goals bode well for us going forward. Long may it continue.
Don’t forget to follow us on twitter (@fromthefinney) and you can also listen to the post-Middlesbrough podcast below now.