This was the first game since the game away at Blackburn Rovers that all three of us, (Dan, Oli and I (Jake)) all attended a game so we’re going to do this match review in the same way we did the Blackburn Rovers match review with all of us contributing towards the piece for you all to read. The only thing different to the Rovers piece will be that this time, there’ll be no opposition view but, then again, we don’t always have an opposition piece with the match reviews.
However, there is a bit of a surprise in this piece, something we don’t usually do. We have a contribution from long–time North End fan Paul Richardson. He’s been going on North End for over 50 years and is also my father-in-law and has provided us with his thoughts on the game today, too.
Hopefully, as always, you enjoy the piece and we can provide an unbiased view on the game for you all. If you’re not already following us on social media, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook, don’t forget to say hi!
Oli Gornall – @Gorn__
There was that unmistakable end of season feeling today as North End welcomed Ipswich Town, relegated last weekend. In 23-degree heat, PNE blew away the Tractor boys thanks to Callum Robinson and Lukas Nmecha both grabbing a brace, North Ends best players on the day by some way.
The game started with a pre-season tempo in the scorching heat, as the sun shone on Deepdale. North End set up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 system with Sean Maguire drifting behind Lukas Nmecha who finally started in his preferred central position after a couple of months playing out wide. The City loanee proved his worth, causing issues for the Ipswich defence all afternoon with his movement and pace. Callum Robinson showed his Premier League quality with intricate movements and a positional awareness that simply cannot be taught. He was constantly on the blindside of the Ipswich defenders and moving into positions that made him impossible to pick up.
A Robinson snapshot early on after a neat build-up was a sign of things to come, with the left winger drifting into his usual central position and getting a shot off early, unstoppable for Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal. A second followed soon later with Robinson showing brilliant technique, volleying home after good play from Ryan Ledson who impressed in Ben Pearson’s absence.
North End controlled the game with Ledson, DJ and Gallagher moving into central positions, constantly looking to play Nmecha in behind the defence or looking for Robinson and Maguire who are so good at dropping into pockets of space. Nmecha’s good first half was followed by two goals in the second half.
The first an instinctive left-footed finish after Bialkowski parried Robinson’s shot, and the second a well-timed finished from 10 yards or so after a Robinson cut back. The duo linked up well all game and whilst it seems unlikely that neither will be at Deepdale next season, it was a joy to see them linking up today and especially for Nmecha to get on the scoresheet after a very promising few weeks on the right-hand side. The City loanee has definitely matured and developed in his spell and PNE and I’m sure Alex Neil wants him to return next season.
The tractor boys rarely threatened, with Darnell Fisher comfortable at left-back and Joe Rafferty proving a solid option at right back on his debut. Ipswich’s only real chance came after a mix up between Jordan Storey and Declan Rudd, with Kayden Jackson rattling the bar after moving clear of the keeper and Ben Davies. A clean sheet yes, but Rudd still has lapses of concentration and surely, we will see Connor Ripley before the season’s end (fitness permitting).
The Town End welcomed Alex Neil well after the circus of last week and it was good for PNE to get back to winning ways in emphatic fashion, Robinson the key player again, a theme so common at Deepdale this season. He was withdrawn early in the contest and will be raring to go on Easter Monday as Neil takes his side to relegation-threatened Wigan, hoping to build on the performance and finish the season in a strong top half position.
Paul Richardson – @Harvestcruncher
From my perspective, today’s match in the sun had a very ‘pre-season’ feel about it with nothing much to play for. Having said that, there were a number of good performances which augur well for the future, specifically: Rafferty, Fisher on the left, Ginnelly and Ledson.
For me, the past players attending today brought back a few memories: I’ll mention just three – Roy Tunks: tenuous link, I was best man to the couple who bought his house from him in Fulwood. I first saw Roy Tunks playing for Rotherham against PNE at Deepdale in the Division 3 championship clinching match which we won 3 0, with 2 goals from Alan Spavin, one of which was “that” free kick routine.
Ricardo Fuller who once ripped Burnley’s defence to pieces in a 5-3 victory and finally the legend that is Mel Tottoh who only ever played part of a game at North End’s lowest ever crowd of about 2,000 (although if the number of people who claim to have been there was true, the crowd was about 40000!) So Roy, Ricardo & Mel, I salute you…
Oh and thanks to Alex Neil for committing to us and also to Peter & Trevor for making it happen! Hopefully the future bodes well for us North Enders and we don’t have any repeats of the times when Mel Tottoh made his only appearance for us!
Jake Oates – @jioates
As the other two have mentioned, today certainly felt like your typical end of season tie with absolutely naff all resting on it but, it was also the 5th time we have scored 4 goals in a game this season with 4 of those 5 times being at home. Also, on the back of conceding 4 last week, it was good to keep a clean sheet but for me, Rudd still has some shortcomings and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him gradually weened out of the side over the next season or two.
Callum Robinson shone from the word go today, showing just how much we have missed him in the months he’s been out with an injury. With word that he’s set to join Bournemouth in the summer doing the rounds, it has to be a slight concern that we will struggle to replace him and his goals next season with him now being top of the scoring charts at North End with 12 goals from 21 league starts. Not bad going for someone who missed such a chunk of the season.
The other standout, as has already been mentioned, was Lukas Nmecha. The Man City loanee started the game playing through the middle of the park and the second half out on the right-hand side and his classy performance also saw him with 2 very well deserved goals. Ryan Ledson also had a cracking game in the middle of the park winning 3 aerial duels in the game, the most of any player outside of the defence and also made 3 key passes, the joint-most along with Callum Robinson. Also, he got an assist to his name in setting up Callum Robinson for his opener.
Overall, today was a bit of a gimme, to be honest. Ipswich never really posed a threat, despite hitting the bar but it’s good for Alex Neil to get off to a winning start after signing a new 3 year deal last week and it’ll also be good for the players to bring to an end a torrid few weeks that saw us lose 4 games on the bounce. Attention now turns to Wigan away on Easter Monday.
The Latics still, just about, have a hope of staying up this season after their impressive 2-1 win against Leeds United today, playing the majority of the game with only 10 men. Make no bones about it, Monday is going to be tough but it should certainly be a good game.
Finally, just a note for Josh Ginnelly. He was introduced into the game with little over 15 minutes to go and looked a livewire and very much a player in the same mould as Robinson; a left-footed right winger, very direct, very quick and looks good with the ball at his feet and running at defenders, from what I saw. He’s certainly a player to look forward to seeing develop in the coming seasons.
Dan Wheeler – @Wheels_456
Growing up in and around Preston, weather like Good Friday’s is always a welcome treat. I stepped out of my door and almost physically recoiled at the gust of warm air that met me. It felt like the summer and that was a theme that would carry into the game itself.
Playing against already relegated Ipswich Town it was hard to see much reason for intensity for either side, with North End having fallen away from the play-off spots after recent results. Indeed, this was how the game started. Neither team looked like they were playing for a great deal more than pride until Callum Robinson’s smart turn and shot gave the Lilywhites the lead after just 6 minutes.
This was the home side’s third earliest goal of the season so far, bettered only on two of the other occasions we have hit four this season. Alan Browne netting after 5 minutes against Brentford, and Tom Barkhuizen’s opener just 2 minutes into the 4-1 victory over Blackburn.
I remarked to those around me that “this could get ugly for Ipswich”, who looked the furthest from at the races as any club I’ve seen in a competitive game I can remember. Ipswich fans on social media have since remarked that it appeared the players were already “on the beach”, a phrase commonly used in football when a team visibly has nothing left to play for in a season, and in honesty, it’s hard to defend the Tractor Boys.
They were wide open from the word go, Lukas Nmecha almost found himself through on goal just 8 minutes after the opener, but a last-ditch tackle stopped him getting a clean shot away. The corner was swung in and Ben Davies won his header at the back post, a header that managed to reach the goal unchecked, only to rebound off the upright. From that point, if not earlier, the dye was certainly cast.
Ipswich continued to offer very little, they didn’t press and they certainly didn’t make the most of their possession, often passing into space around the back and midfield with little urgency. Flynn Downes did show a bit of initiative for the visitors, collecting the ball and having a go from distance, but he was off balance and his shot was a good way wide and far too high to trouble Declan Rudd in the PNE goal.
Robinson doubled his tally soon after. A looping cross from Joe Rafferty, impressive on his full debut, wasn’t dealt with by the Ipswich defence after two failed attempts at headed clearances. It fell to Callum Robinson who took a touch and volleyed beautifully into the far top corner for 2-0.
It could have been settled before half-time if it wasn’t already. Only a good double save from Bartosz Bialkowski denying first, Callum Robinson’s vicious left-footed strike, then he somehow scrambled across to save Lukas Nmecha’s header as he looked to nod in on the rebound.
Nmecha wasn’t to be denied after half time though. The talented youngster, much maligned by some sections of the North End fanbase for a lack of goals scored this season, snaffled up a chance 10 minutes after half time after Robinson’s initial shot had been saved by Town’s Polish stopper. Superb work from Maguire set Robinson up on the left of the box, his shot was spilt and Nmecha clipped the ball home for the third.
In tennis terms that was game, set and match North End. Will Keane came on for Ipswich, remembered by many for his superb solo goal at Turf Moor in a 2-0 Preston win. Admittedly, that was about the only thing of note he produced in a PNE shirt, but I gave him a round of applause anyway. What the hell? I was in a good mood.
My mood was increased as Nmecha sealed his brace for the afternoon on 75 minutes. Ben Davies’ quick thinking from a free-kick saw him chip the ball through to home debutant Josh Ginnelly. Ginnelly’s pace and direct approach panicked the already timid Ipswich backline and the ball broke for Robinson who squared the ball for Nmecha. Still with a lot to do, the Germany U21 forward calmly side-footed home off the post to round the scoring for the afternoon off, and hopefully silence some of his harsher critics to boot.
A good day was had by all! Well, except Ipswich fans, and you have to feel for those that made the long journey from Norfolk on a Good Friday to watch that display from their lads. They will have one eye on their preparations for League 1 next year. As for what lies ahead for North End, we can be cautiously optimistic if we’re to be treated to ruthless attacking play like we saw today next year!