We finally scored a goal at Deepdale but it was not enough as we succumbed to a fifth successive loss at home in the league.
A late Gary Gardner goal gave the Blues a 2-1 win when it looked like we had done enough for a point. It’s too premature to be calling for Alex Neil’s head in my opinion, but this is a very disappointing start to the season.
Here are five things we learned from the Birmingham game on Saturday.
0 Points From 5, and 2 Wins in the Last 13 at Deepdale
Our home form can’t be ignored. It’s obviously the main talking point so far this season. Only once before in our history have we lost 5 league games in a row at home, and that came in the 1958/59 season.
Form at Deepdale tailed off towards the end of last season, with our last game in front of fans being that depressing 3-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers. Since lockdown, it’s been even worse. What has gone wrong? Do the fans make that much difference? Of course, we help, but I don’t think it can be completely put down to that.
Generally in those 5 games, we have just been poor. Both goals conceded on Saturday could have been avoided. The first was an absolute shambles after just a minute had been played. Jordan Storey could have done better for both goals. The second a simple ball into the box that we failed to defend and made it all too easy for Gary Gardner to score with his first touch after coming on.
The defence looks devoid of confidence. Obviously, Ben Davies is a big miss, but Patrick Bauer no longer looks the calming influence from last season. Declan Rudd has one of the lowest save percentages in the league and every time the other team go through on goal you’d back them to score. Even just a long ball forward now makes me worried.
Darnell Fisher not being able to last the game was also a big blow and restricted us from making another attacking substitution.
Yes, our away form is good, and if the 10 points we have accumulated so far were evenly spread across our home and away games (i.e 5 points from each) then perhaps there wouldn’t be as much of an inquest into it. This is despite the fact we would still be in the same position in the league.
Stockley Looks a Confidence Player
Let’s try and have a bit of positivity. What a strike from Jayden Stockley! Who saw that coming? A goal right out of nowhere just when we needed it.
A long ball up from Rudd was headed away by the Birmingham defence before Jayden chested it down and sent a wonderful volley soaring over Neil Etheridge’s head and into the back of the net. It left Alan Browne with his head in his hands in disbelief and Rudd running down the pitch to celebrate with Stockley.
A great goal, and after that Stockley was getting more involved in the game and linking up well with the other players in attacking positions. We’ve seen before in the game at home last season against Rovers that when he is having a good day, he can more than play his part in this side.
Barkhuizen and Harrop Proved a Point
Two of our most creative players got a start on Saturday as Neil changed around a team that had played the last three games on the trot. Many have been crying out for Josh Harrop to be given a more regular run in the team throughout his 3 years here.
He got the nod out wide, and as usual, put some good balls into the box and had a decent effort when he cut inside that just went over the bar. He is a very technically gifted player. More so than Brad Potts I would say, but still not an out and out winger.
Tom Barkhuizen started to get more into the game in the second half as we spread open the Birmingham defence. We just lacked that decisive ball in the final third.
A familiar phrase used to describe our attacking play. It’s a shame we weren’t able to bring Scott Sinclair on for the final 20 to give us another option, but as I alluded to in my last piece, in my opinion, Barkhuizen still remains one of our most potent weapons.
He probably should have scored early in the second half, and had a nice curled effort towards the end which Etheridge managed to tip over.
Golden Chances Missed
We were all over Blues once we drew level at 1-1. That was when we needed to get a second in that first half. We were getting the ball in their area with plenty of bodies running around.
Alan Browne didn’t make the most of a huge opportunity when Paul Gallagher played the ball into him just outside the six-yard box. Browne had time to take a touch, turn and apply a simple finish, but instead tried a back-heeled flick that he didn’t connect with properly. He knew it was a golden chance and one that should have changed the game.
Again Gally provided a great opportunity for Barkhuizen in the second half, with a pass on the right-hand side of the box. It’s a position we have seen Barky convert from many times before, but his attempt to place the ball in the corner didn’t quite have enough power on it.
With our clean sheet record practically non-existent of late, we simply have to make these chances count.
Fisher Injured Again?
Darnell Fisher is always a huge miss when he’s out. He’s been one of our best performers under Alex Neil since 2017.
Back in the side on Saturday, he was having another solid game on the right-hand side before having to hobble off early to be replaced by Joe Rafferty. Hopefully, it’s not enough to keep him out of many more games.
We’ve already struggled injury-wise this season with Ben Davies and Ben Pearson having missed a chunk. Games are coming thick and fast and there’s no respite. The squad is going to be stretched throughout the season and we will need everyone to play their part.
I’m just unsure whether everyone in the squad is good enough to play a big enough part that will see us battle at the right end of the table.
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