Wednesday night’s clash with Stoke City seemed to come at a bad time for North End, at least from the perspective of many fans reading the team sheet when it was first released. With Louis Moult and Andrew Hughes confined to the injury room already, one name missing from the team sheet surprised; that of Sean Maguire.
It turned out that the Irishman was suffering from a concussion, something that FA guidelines have a strict procedure for and clearly, Maguire was not passed to play. This meant PNE started with no recognised striker, Tom Barkhuizen playing centrally, with Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop flanking him on either side. Pearson and Gallagher formed the base of the midfield and Daniel Johnson again occupied that number 10 role just behind the front line that he has been flourishing in recently.
It seemed to take a little while for Preston to settle into this new state of affairs as they found possession in the opening few minutes to be elusive. Nothing seemed to stick to Barkhuizen up front who was doing his best to hold up play at the top of the pitch. During this spell, Stoke enjoyed a lively start to the game. It was somewhat out of the blue therefore when Daniel Johnson fired North End into a 1-0 lead.
A long ball into the channel was chased down relentlessly by Tom Barkhuizen who managed to get his low cross away before it crossed the by-line. It was partially cleared by Danny Batth who headed it out to the edge of the box but only as far as Johnson. DJ got his leg up high to beat Joe Allen to the ball and knock it down into his own path on the edge of the box before firing a low bouncing shot that proved too much for Jack Butland in the Potters’ goal who got a hand to it, but couldn’t keep it out of the bottom right corner.
It was soon after this that Ben Pearson picked up his second yellow card of the season, the referee booking him for his first offence; an innocuous challenge in the middle of the park. It would maybe have been a foul in other situations, but again it seemed to be that the referee was taking the very first feasible opportunity to book Pearson and again, for a challenge the vast majority of other players would never receive a yellow card for.
This set the trend for the evening for the referee, who seemed to blow for a Stoke City free-kick almost every time a Preston player put a challenge in. This continued for the duration of the game, during which time he awarded a total of three free-kicks to North End. The referee’s obvious bias towards the Staffordshire club made the apparent simplicity of North End’s evening all the more impressive.
Preston were to take a two-goal lead into half time, with Jack Butland this time being more than a little culpable. A long kick downfield from Declan Rudd was allowed to bounce by Danny Batth as Barkhuizen again looked to chase it down, the bounce cueing panic stations at the back for Stoke. Jack Butland came storming out of his goal to try to punch clear but only succeeded in punching the ball into the ground in front of Billy Bodin.
Butland tried to reposition himself but had not managed to in time before Bodin had got his shot away. It was a low side-footed effort which appeared to not pose much threat, but Butland seemed to not have his feet sorted yet and couldn’t get down to the ball in time, seeing it squirm under him and into the net.
Billy Bodin’s celebration mirrored the reaction of many of us fans, particularly myself, Jake and Oli who were seated in the Town End for this one and did not realise the ball had gone through Butland until the far ends of the Invincibles and Finney stands began celebrating.
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It was not all to be good news in the first half, as Tom Clarke was forced to leave the field early after taking a knock. Clarke was replaced by Darnell Fisher with just a few minutes left on the clock before the break.
The second half started quietly as Stoke looked to find a way back into the game, the best they could muster however were a couple of harmless long-range efforts by pantomime villain Tom Ince and a dangerous looking set-piece or two. They found their endeavours blocked for the most part by the superlative partnership of Ben Davies and particularly in this game, Patrick Bauer, who was immense in repelling Stoke’s many aerial bombardments.
It was just as Stoke seemed to be building up something of a head of steam when North End struck the final blow. A quick break from Josh Harrop saw the former United man feed man-of-the-match Daniel Johnson on the right of the 18-yard box. DJ cut inside leaving a defender sprawled on the ground and brought a good save from Butland with his low effort from an angle.
However, Butland could only push the ball back out into the box and as it happened, imminent danger in the shape of Josh Harrop, who had continued his run into the box, met the ball with his left foot and guided it back across goal and into the corner on his return to the starting line-up after almost a full season out with injury.
There was still time for Stoke to grab a consolation goal through James McClean who had clashed rather violently with Darnell Fisher, seeming to have North End’s number 2on the ground with an arm over his neck, just minutes before.
A low ball was played into the box and McClean was fastest to react to the ball squeezing past Bauer and Stoke City forward Sam Vokes who were competing for it in the middle, to finish low at the back post with just minutes to go. It was another good home performance by North End on the whole though. Now with six goals and six points from their opening two home games, PNE will head into Saturday’s fixture against Sheffield Wednesday in high spirits.
What did you think of the game? Were you there last night? Let us know on social media, we’re on twitter, facebook and Instagram – @fromthefinney. Also, why not check out our player ratings from the game, too? Just hit this link.