A third away win in a row, and now six unbeaten on the road after what turned out to be a comfortable 2-0 victory on a cold Wednesday night in Stoke. We’re now just three points off second place now and the momentum is starting to build.
Two winnable home games follow and the North End team are looking very strong at the moment. Here are five things we learned from the Stoke City game:
One of Davies’ Best Ever Games
Ben Davies was superb on Wednesday night. He was on the end of every dangerous ball into our box, making countless tackles, blocks and interceptions. Stoke probably had the better of the first half, but they just couldn’t find a way past Davies or Rudd for that matter.
He is indispensable to this side, it’s as simple as that. It is only a matter of time before he is playing in the Premier League. Hopefully with us, but if we don’t achieve promotion this season, then expect a few top-flight clubs to be sniffing about.
It is not out of the question that within the next 18 months he could be in the England squad as well, with the centre of defence not the national team’s strongest area at the moment. He is a joy to watch these days.
Nugent Changed the Game
Alex Neil went with the same team on Wednesday night that had started against Wigan Athletic. That meant Seani Maguire kept his place upfront, but in all honesty, he struggled to make an impact.
He swapped places with Tom Barkhuizen late in the first half and eventually made way for David Nugent in the 57th minute. One minute later and we were a goal up. Nuge instantly caused problems and was a problem for the Stoke defence.
He was buzzing around, holding the ball up well, and playing intelligent passes for his teammates. He changed the game for us and was crucial to securing the win.
Unfortunately, Seani seems to be a bit lost at the moment. That was the perfect game for Nugent and he may have played himself into the starting lineup for the Millwall game.
We Know How to Grind it Out
That wasn’t a pretty performance by any means but we managed to get a hard-fought win at the end of the night. Those two goals were two of the scrappiest we will see all season, but you’ll take them away to Stoke as it was never really going to be a game of much quality.
It was a contrast to our goals against Wigan and it shows we’re finding different ways to win games. Davies was key for both goals, winning headers in the box allowing Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen to smash the ball home.
Stoke were unbeaten in their last six home games, so this win can’t be underestimated and it’ll give the squad a big confidence boost.
Rudd Again Proved His Worth
Declan Rudd had a shaky start to the season, but the last few months he has shown consistently that he is worthy of his place in the team. Not that there has been any competition for his place, but many fans have wanted us to bring in another ‘keeper in the last few windows.
He’s pulled off some key saves for us in the last few games which shouldn’t be underestimated. One particular save in the first half from Tyrese Campbell stood out and we now haven’t conceded more than one goal in a game since New Year’s Day.
He’s receiving strong backing from the fans as well, and Rudd is clearly passionate about our chances for the rest of the season. Surely a new contract is on the horizon?
A Fully Fit Squad Makes a Difference
The injuries to Louis Moult, Billy Bodin and Tom Bayliss aside, this is the strongest squad Neil has had available to him in his two and a half years in Lancashire.
The eleven on the pitch for the last few games with Andrew Hughes back has been arguably our strongest team. Of course you could swap a couple of players around such as Josh Harrop but each game can require a different sort of lineup.
Just looking at the players not even making the bench recently shows you the depth we have. Brad Potts, Ryan Ledson, Paul Huntington, and Jordan Storey haven’t been making the squad, and we do have fantastic options to come off the bench as well.
It allows us to change the game with the substitutes available as shown with Nugent on Wednesday night.
Two home games are up next for North End against Millwall this Saturday, and Hull the week after. If you can, get down to Deepdale and support the lads as we aim to cut the gap to the top two down even further.
Who knows where this season could take us?