A frustrating afternoon in difficult conditions ended in a 1-0 defeat for North End. A missed opportunity for us as other results did go our way, again.
We could have been in 3rd place with a win, but as things stand it’s still extremely tight in the top six. It’s probably going to go to the wire, but a win next week against Hull City is needed with tough away games against West Bromwich Albion and Fulham to follow.
Here are five things we learned from the Millwall game:
First 15 – Great, Last 75 – Awful
As we often see at Deepdale, North End started the game very strongly. We were comfortable in possession, and waiting patiently for opportunities to open up. They did open up on a couple of occasions, and we should have found the back of the net.
Early on Tom Barkhuizen put the ball across the box, which Alan Browne left and it looked like Scott Sinclair would apply the finish before a great last-ditch tackle. A couple of minutes later as the crowd were on their feet in the 7th minute for Sir Tom Finney, Barky ran down the Preston legend’s right-wing, before pulling it back for Daniel Johnson.
He shot straight at the ‘keeper though before David Nugent sent the rebound over the bar. After this Millwall got into the game, and we made too many sloppy passes.
There were lapses in defence, surprisingly from Ben Davies, and he was lucky that Tom Bradshaw only hit the bar.
We couldn’t really create a meaningful attack and eventually conceded a soft goal. It’s frustrating for the fans when we get ourselves in a good position and then drop points at home.
Declan Rudd seemed to be annoyed at the response from the fans at the end, which was fairly muted, but I’m not sure what he was expecting.
Clarke Shouldn’t Have Played
When the teams were announced at 2 pm, a few eyebrows were raised at the decision to play Tom Clarke at right-back. We didn’t know Darnell Fisher was injured at the time but even so Joe Rafferty is the obvious replacement after a very impressive season so far.
Clarke has obviously been a great servant for this club but has had injury problems for the last few years now. He’s capable of doing a job, but maybe more at centre-back than at right-back. He’s behind Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer, Paul Huntington and Jordan Storey in the pecking order for that position though.
We are used to our full-backs being attacking, and going on the overlap. Tommy Clarke doesn’t have the pace for that, although he is capable of putting a good ball into the box.
I don’t believe any of this ‘he was picked because of his height’ nonsense. Surely more goes into Alex Neil’s thinking than that, and he’s about the same height as Rafferty anyway.
With Clarke’s contract expiring in the summer, it will be interesting to see if he’ll still be here next season.
It Should Have Been Stockley
It was a scrappy game on Saturday, with the rain of Storm Dennis lashing down in the second half particularly.
Our free-flowing, passing game from the first 15 minutes had deserted us and we needed a plan B. With Josh Harrop and Paul Gallagher coming on as the first two substitutes, we had some good crossers of the ball on the pitch. We now needed someone to aim them at.
With Jayden Stockley on the bench, he seemed like the obvious choice. He has changed games for us in the past, and with the wind and rain whirling around, the Millwall defence wouldn’t have been too keen to see him come on.
However, instead, Neil threw on Seani Maguire for David Nugent and unsurprisingly he struggled up front and barely got a touch. It’s hard to see what he offers us anymore, gone are the days of Maguire driving at the defence, getting past them and applying superb finishes.
If he does get the ball, he regularly runs into trouble, and he’s also not the man you want in the box when your whipping crosses in.
We Need To Get Sinclair More Involved
That was Sinclair’s 7th game for the club, and his first defeat. After barely featuring for Celtic this season before his arrival, he’s not at his best just yet. We need to get him more involved in the game though.
Barkhuizen is probably our main attacking threat with plenty of our counters coming down the right-hand side. We need to do the same on the left. Andrew Hughes is great at going forward so hopefully with Sinclair they can start to work some magic down that side.
We’ve seen glimpses from Sinclair, but not a great deal just yet. He’ll get better, but it would be good to see him on the ball at a bit more. What is noticeable is that he does make the right runs into space, but isn’t always found by his teammates.
The longer he trains with them, the better understanding that they’ll get. Very early days, but I’m itching to see him in full flow.
Lost 4 of Last 6 at Home
After an incredible start to the season at home, winning 7 and drawing 2 of the first 9 games, our form at Deepdale has dropped off.
Including the FA Cup defeat against Norwich City, we have lost 4 out of our last 6 home games. As well as Saturday the other defeats came against Reading and Middlesbrough. We’ve actually still got the best home record in the division due to that strong start, but after 23 points from the first 9 games at home, we’ve picked up just 10 points from the next 8.
With a lot of tough away games still to come before the end of the season (playing 4 of the top 7), we need to start turning Deepdale into a fortress again. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s gone wrong, but we’re not looking as dominant as we did in the first half of the season.
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