Preston North End continued their recent unbeaten run after a rocky festive period with a goalless draw against Derby County. The Rams arrived at Deepdale having picked up 7 points from their last three games, the same as Preston but were probably the more favoured side heading into the game which proved to be quite the entertaining goalless draw.
North End started the brighter of the two sides and should have been in the lead once, if not twice inside the opening six or seven minutes. Jayden Stockley’s reaction header flashing just wide and then Jordan Storey firing over from inside the box. Derby then fashioned a chance from nothing when on loan Harry Wilson crashed an effort off the bar. The referee was then called into action after what seemed on first viewing not even a foul, a dangerous challenge from Ben Pearson caught Tom Lawrence and Pearson was probably lucky to stay on the pitch and after a second viewing (at half time on the TV) I think he was certainly lucky to get away with just a yellow.
All of this was sandwiched in between yet more chances for Alex Neil’s side with Stockley sending a half-volley over the bar from about 7 yards out, probably one of the best chances of the game for North End. As well as this, there was also decent chances for Potts, Fisher, Maguire and Paul Gallagher but goalmouth blocks or Rams ‘keeper Kelle Roos managed to keep them out of the back of the Derby net.
One of the key takeaways from this game for North End fans though was the fact that Alex Neil, for the third game in a row, had named an unchanged side. This is something that has rarely happened so far this season for North End and It’s good to see some key players back getting minutes under their belts after time out with injuries. Sean Maguire completed 90 minutes and, though he looked a little off the pace, it was clear to see what he brings to the team with his direct style of play and close ball control.
Another positive is that both Brad Potts and Jayden Stockley seem to have settled well following their arrivals in the January window from Barnsley and Exeter respectively. Potts has one hell of an engine on him and gets up and down the pitch with ease. Stockley has brought what we seem to have been missing thus far this season and that is his ability to link up play and be a focal point for the team, making the ball ‘stick’ a bit better up the top end of the pitch and bringing other players into play. Both getting off the mark in terms of scoring early into their time at Deepdale will have no doubt helped them settle in a bit easier with that famous ‘monkey’ off their backs.
The stand out performer was man-of-the-match Ben Davies. He won nine aerial duels, made seven clearances and had a 75% pass success rate. He’s really starting to show what a classy player he is and Storey alongside him in the centre of defence is looking equally assured. These two young men could become the centre back pairing at North End for years to come.