After some time to reflect, here’s my thoughts for From the Finney.
On Wednesday night, PNE were hoping to put things right after a drubbing from Cardiff on Saturday when they hosted in-form QPR at a wet and windy Deepdale.
QPR were hoping to bring their recent winning form to PR1 but were held to a goalless draw by the Lilywhites who were, in my eyes, just trying to steady a rocking ship. Having only won two of the last 11 games at the time of writing, Alex Neil seemed to want to go back to basics and take a step back. Which, in some cases, you need to do.
PNE’s performances lately have not been up to standard and I don’t think Alex chopping and changing formations has helped the squad settle in a role to then have it completely changed the next match day. However, we have had a busy busy season so I understand it to an extent.
Alex Neil briefly mentioned that the new lads are seeming to settle now and I think that’s what PNE have needed. With the window seeing eight new incomings (two turned from loans to permanents), it was always going to be an uphill battle for the gaffer to include six loans in a matchday squad when five are only allowed.
North End looked very lively in the match, almost taking the game to QPR as soon as the game started. An open game for both sides, Daniel Iversen had to make sure he was alert inside the first ten minutes after he kept out Lyndon Dykes’ blasted effort with his leg. Another fine performance from the Danish shot-stopper who kept PNE in the game at times.
A shaky backline was still there to see in the opening moments, QPR managing to get in behind a handful of times, utilising Charlie Austin’s physical and technical presence.
Alex Neil handed Anthony Gordon his second start for North End, the birthday boy certainly made himself known from the get-go. Gordon has been what has felt like a breath of fresh air for PNE, always wanting to take on his man, brimming with confidence, chasing down every ball, the lad just thrives off playing football.
However, at times it felt like it was a game of will he, won’t he score? The signs were there that he is not far away from bagging his first North End goal. And once he starts, I don’t think he’ll stop. There were at least three opportunities where the on-loan Everton youngster showed his class and was very unlucky not to score but that will come with time, as he stated to Sky Sports in his interview after the game.
Neil was once again reshuffling the pack, making four changes from the weekend with Sepp van den Berg, Brad Potts, Scott Sinclair and Anthony Gordon coming into the starting lineup. Sepp van den Berg was given his first start since his arrival on deadline day and played as a right-back whereas previously we saw him fill in for Huntington at centre-back. Sepp showed what he can do when on the ball, he wasn’t being afraid to carry it down the pitch either putting in a cross or laying it off, we saw a bit of a mix.
I thought he showed shades of what Ben Davies did, not being afraid to take the ball a bit further up the pitch, finding someone on the flank or just running with the ball showing confidence, it’s what PNE have needed for a bit now and it’s nice to see the Dutch youngster not being afraid to put a foot wrong in only his second game.
Sepp also came close to a goal, an Anthony Gordon corner flicked on by Ched Evans saw Sepp see his headed effort tipped over the bar.
The two lads on-loan at North End from Merseyside worked pretty well together on the night and I don’t think it will take them long to create good chemistry between them. Long may it continue.
Myself, and probably plenty of others, were left a bit confused later on in the game, where it looked PNE were inches from a goal when Alex Neil decided to bring off arguably our biggest attacking influence. Anthony Gordon was subbed off for Tom Barkhuizen with ten minutes left to play. This brought North End’s attacking tempo down a notch or two and you could definitely see the game change the second Gordon stepped off the Deepdale turf.
Although it was probably to keep Gordon in good shape for the weekend, it looked as if the lad could have gone the full game.
In the end, it was another game for North End’s taking but another handful of missed opportunities left the Lilywhites settling for a point. It’s becoming a regular occurrence seeing North End have plenty of chances but failing to capitalise. However, there were plenty of good signs on show.
Anthony Gordon deservedly picked up Sky’s man of the match award for his brilliant display, and it was nice to hear Sky talk so well of the youngster. I’m hoping we see a lot more of Anthony play like that, a player who gets you up out of your seat, it’s been quite some time since we’ve had someone like that at the club.
Aiden McGeady springs to mind when you see Gordon on the ball. Fast, skillful and a great eye for goal.
North End take on Huddersfield Town on Saturday, hoping to get their fifth home win of the season in what has been a tough hunting ground for Alex Neil and his squad so far this season.
I’d like to see Alex Neil stick with nearly the same team on Saturday, with Riis in for Evans and Molumby in for Potts.
I feel Riis has what it takes up front with the service of Gordon and Sinclair on either side of him and with the run of fixtures coming up, there will likely be more changes in the coming weeks as well.
Finally, if you haven’t listened to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast yet, why not? It’s available to stream in all the usual places now.