First off, let me say that I think there’s been a huge overreaction on social media to the last couple of results. Ultimately, if you take a minute to sit back and look at it all, we’ve lost to the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the league with a bottom 6 budget. To even be level on points with 6th place a few weeks back with the torrid start to the season we had and the injury-ravaged squad we still have, we aren’t in the grand scheme of things, doing too badly.
Heading into the game last night, arguably we still had a slight chance at the play-offs, but we would have had to have beaten a well drilled Leeds United side who play some exceptional football under ‘El Loco’, Argentinian boss Marcelo Bielsa. Leeds United started out with the expected 4-1-4-1 formation with Alioski continuing to play at left-back alongside Liam Cooper.
North End started with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation and Alan Browne seemed to be locking on to Kalvin Phillips whenever he got the chance in order to try and stop him from getting Leeds playing. From the goalkeeper, we started out in the first half by pressing high with Maguire and Browne marking both Jansson and Cooper and DJ was picking up Phillips when Browne was pushed higher up and our wide men in Lukas Nmecha and Callum Robinson were marking their two full-backs Ezgjan Alioski and Luke Ayling respectively.
For the most part in the first half, this set-up worked well and it often forced Leeds to go long although quite often Mateusz Klich would drop in deep to receive the ball and to help them build up with a 4 v 3. Leeds also pressed high who let the centre backs have the ball and pressed us as we moved toward half way and this often resulted in us going long and moving the ball out into the wide areas and hoping to pick up any 2nd balls and build an attack from there. For most of the first half, Nmecha was our only real outlet and did well in pinning Alioski back but we failed to really get any bodies in and around the final third and we appeared very cautious moving forward.
Both of our fullbacks tended to sit a bit deeper than usual and this resulted in only really having the 3 attackers and not much width if any at all. To a certain extent, both sides kind of cancelled each other out in the first half and I thought we played alright, if a little lucky not to be behind at half time with Leeds only managing to get a couple of tame shots away at Declan Rudd.
Without a doubt, the defining moment in the game was the red card. Ben Pearson had already been booked earlier on in the game for his first foul after around the 15-minute mark which, considering the amount of Leeds fouls that went unpunished in the game, I think it’s safe to say that Ben’s reputation earned him his 14th booking of the season. The home fans didn’t even get to see their side keep 11 men on the pitch for 50 minutes as Pearson was then shown a straight red card after bringing down Patrick Bamford.
Ben Pearson was covering back after an awful freekick routine saw Daniel Johnson play the ball inside to centre back Ben Davies who tried to thread a pass through to Sean Maguire but it was cut out and with Davies massively out of position and Storey almost in an RB position, it fell to Pearson who, as most North End fans know, sits deep and covers, to try and mop up. That resulted in the coming together and due to him being the last man and Bamford through on goal, he saw the straight red card.
I feel the criticism of arguably the best central midfielder we’ve had at the club for a long, long time is somewhat harsh but hey, that’s the beauty of football, as fans, we don’t always agree on everything. It’s this and the manner of the second half performance that, I think, has led to the incredible overreaction that’s been going on on social media. I’ve seen something on Facebook from someone saying that last night was the worst performance from a Preston side that they’ve ever seen and if that’s the case, that person clearly hasn’t been on many North End games in their time.
This game, in isolation, was always going to be tough but when you factor in the fact that we had Brad Potts, Tom Barkhuizen, Andrew Hughes and Paul Gallagher all missing and we started the game with 3 not fully fit players in Robinson, Pearson, Browne, Jordan Storey is apparently carrying a knock and was at one point limping in the first half. I think it’s clear to see that Sean Maguire needs a rest too so, I’m not quite sure what folk thought was going to happen in this game to be quite honest. Also, let’s not forget that we were playing a side in the top 3 in the table and had 10-men for the majority of the second half, what exactly did people expect?
The season is now, in my opinion as good as over and as fans, we should all rally and get behind the team and the manager and enjoy the rest of the season and let’s hope that we still have Alex Neil in charge come the end of the season and more importantly, the start of next season as it seems that he’s now nailed on favourite to head to the Midlands and there are also rumours that Peter Ridsdale is already sounding out potential replacements.
How high up the table do you think we will finish this season or are we destined to finish in the home we have come to know as 11th place over the past few seasons?