North End picked up a point on Sunday lunchtime with just their third draw of the season. Neither side was able to break the deadlock in a game that offered little chances aside from a penalty for Reading and a couple of half chances in the first half for North End.
Three points would have been great on a weekend where there have only been four Championship games but it was not to be. Here are five things we learned from the Reading game…
Rafferty’s Rugby Union Audition
A late change to the starting eleven saw Joe Rafferty replace Andrew Hughes who aggravated a shoulder injury presumably picked up after he was sent flying into the advertising hoardings at Birmingham. I would imagine that a collective sigh was heard throughout Preston at this news.
Unfortunately, Josh Earl was also unavailable, so Raff was placed on his unfamiliar left-hand side. I say unfamiliar, of course, he has played there many times in the past, but let’s remember that he is actually a right-back.
He’s given away plenty of penalties and dangerous free kicks in the past, and just when the game was heading for a bore draw, he rugby tackled the uncharacteristically quiet Lucas João. It was a definite penalty, but luckily for us, the Portuguese striker dragged his penalty wide.
Aside from this, I thought Joe Rafferty looked nervous, often opted for the safe pass, looking to not make a mistake rather than make a significant impact on the game. Another sign that defensive reinforcements are needed.
10 Central Midfielders in the Squad
It’s safe to say that we are currently overloaded in the centre of the park. The centre of midfield was already our strongest area before the arrivals of Jayson Molumby and Ben Whiteman.
Of course, they have been brought in whilst the futures of Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson remain up in the air but, they are both still with us and on Sunday, Jayson Molumby and Ben Whiteman lined up with Ryan Ledson for the second game in a row. Whilst on the bench with DJ was, Paul Gallagher, Tom Bayliss, Adam O’Reilly, and Jack Baxter. Brad Potts was also in the team playing out wide and captain Alan Browne played at right-back.
Josh Harrop is another option who left to join Ipswich Town on loan this week. There are too many options in that squad, and although there will be further changes in the summer, it’s looking increasingly more difficult for Baxter and O’Reilly to break through and even Tom Bayliss.
It’s very unbalanced when we lack options in the wide areas and throughout the defence. Hopefully this is addressed in the time remaining of this window and in the summer window as well.
5 Clean Sheets in 7 Games
In the last 7 league games only Nottingham Forest and Bristol City have been able to breach our defence and one of those was from the spot.
It’s definitely a significant improvement on the earlier part of the season and our 5 clean sheets in our last 7 games have come against Bristol City, Derby County, Coventry City, Birmingham City and then this Sunday just gone against Reading. Considering Patrick Bauer has been missing, and Andrew Hughes and Darnell Fisher haven’t been ever-present, it’s impressive.
Daniel Iversen’s performance on Sunday was splendid. Just his third game for the club, but he showed that we shouldn’t miss Declan Rudd too much. The 23-year-old looked calm and composed and made a superb save midway through the second half, diving to his left to push the ball round the post from point blank range. It was eventually called offside but the Dane wasn’t to know that.
He looks a strong presence between the sticks and already has two clean sheets to his name.
Another Boring Game Lacking Creativity
It’s become increasingly frustrating to watch North End this season. It’s very different when you’re not able to be in the stadium but the matches just seem to pass by without much happening. A lack of chances which I think is caused by a lack of creativity in the team.
Scott Sinclair looks like the only player who is capable of producing something out of nothing but isn’t always massively involved in the game, as has been mentioned before by the lads on the podcast and Alex Neil himself, he’s a “moments player”.
Emil Riis did some good lay-offs with his chest on Sunday and came closest in the first half with a poked effort through a crowd of players, a Brad Potts chance an early shot on target from Scott Sinclair were about the sum of our chances really.
Balls into the box are hopeful, and when we do get into the final third there is a lack of decisiveness and any half chances are often wasted. The game followed a very similar pattern to the home match against Nottingham Forest on the in January and looked to be mirroring it with the late penalty decision against us.
I’d like to think the game on Sunday is one that we would usually win in front of fans, with the North End faithful urging them on in the second half as we so often see. Otherwise, with an empty stadium the games often seem to just peter out, with no real urgency to push for a winner.
Limited Attacking Options
Looking at the bench on Sunday, only two out of the nine substitutes were attackers. Tom Barkhuizen and Ched Evans were both brought on, but the late replacements didn’t have much time to make an impact.
With Seani Maguire currently injured, and Josh Harrop and Jayden Stockley now out on loan, we don’t have many options. We don’t have many prolific scorers in the squad anyway, but it now looks very threadbare on the attacking front. I’d love Louis Moult to be fully fit and pushing for a place now but it’s not looking great for him. Fingers crossed he’s back playing again soon.
However, out wide we definitely need a few more options. Barkhuizen and Sinclair are our only natural wingers with Brad Potts playing out there from time to time. It would be great to be able to bring a bit more pace off the bench to stretch the game and it is definitely an area Alex Neil should be looking to strengthen this month if he can.
He’s highlighted it in the press recently so hopefully we can get something done before Monday’s 11pm deadline.
Finally, if you haven’t yet listened to the latest episode of the podcast, it’s available to stream now on the majority of streaming platforms or below. We’re also on twitter – @fromthefinney.