Preston North End began 2023 with a last gasp winner against Stoke City courtesy of Ched Evans in an otherwise scrappy encounter.

Neither side showed any quality throughout the match but Evans’ header from an Alan Browne corner set the away fans into raptures, yet again at The Bet 365 Stadium.

A very happy hunting ground for North End

Preston have won on their last four visits to Stoke in front of fans. Every one of their trips to The Bet 365 Stadium since Stoke returned to this level bar the season behind closed doors has ended with three points for The Lilywhites with the first two of those wins coming under current Potters manager Alex Neil.

They’ve only conceded one goal in those games and six of the seven they have scored have come right in front of the away end. It’s turning out to be the perfect away day for the Preston fans.

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The celebrations of Ched Evans’ winner were right up there with those following Andrew Hughes late goal in the 2-1 victory almost a year to the day. It’s unlikely either side will be changing divisions next season, so get yourself booked on for Stoke away next year, as we’re certainly a bogey side when we come to visit them.

A game devoid of any quality

0-0 would have been a fair result in truth as both sides failed to create any decent chances. Neither side had any players with real pace or flair and final balls were sloppy all over the pitch.

From Preston’s point of view it was a real blow to lose Emil Riis right after he’d shown some good work to beat a man. It was a poor game after that and it always looked like one goal would be enough. Luckily Freddie Woodman was solid in the first half but it again showed that Preston need more in the final third and that has to come in January.

Stoke will be disappointed too, and you’d expect a better display from an Alex Neil side, but they seem to be inconsistent much like us. However this was a game Preston needed something from. Many would settled for a point after three defeats in a row, but three sent everyone home happy for once.

It doesn’t matter how they come, or in what minute. The Championship this season is as close as ever bar the top two, and you’ve just got to get over the line in any way possible. Job done, and onto the next one.

Stoke City v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images

Between Woodman and Diaby for man of the match

Jordan Storey missed out for just the second time in the league this season. It meant Bambi Diaby came in on the right hand side of the back three.

Diaby was solid throughout and linked up well with Alan Browne on the right. Diaby made some fantastic slide tackles at crucial times and was adept at carrying the ball forward as well. He was overjoyed as anyone with the winner as well, he clearly enjoys his football here.

Freddie Woodman recovered well after a mistake last week. In the first half there were some tense moments in our area that he had to be alert for. Particularly an effort he saved with his feet just before half time. He was good in the air too and celebrated wildly in front of the fans at the end as he picked up his first clean sheet in seven games.

Stoke City v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Lowe hesitancy to make subs shows we’re lacking

Ryan Lowe’s hand was forced in the first half as he replaced the injured Emil Riis with Ben Woodburn. Aside from that we didn’t make another substitution despite the eleven on the pitch failing to come up with many ideas of their own.

It led to the fans singing ‘Ryan give us a change’ to which he acknowledged only by pointing back to the players on the pitch. He didn’t have many options on the bench in terms of rolling the dice to try and find a winner. The only attacking player available was 17-year-old Finlay Cross-Adair.

Even still Brad Potts could have been brought on just to add some height to compete with the Stoke defence. Harry Souttar stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch, literally.

In the end we didn’t need a change as Evans’ good form continued but it shows that our current squad really needs improving. It’s one that Lowe said he was happy with at the end of August but every team will suffer injuries. We were always only ever a couple of knocks away from being left short.

Players like Sean Maguire aren’t going to offer much when they spend most the season in the medical room. He doesn’t offer too much when he’s on the pitch anyway. With Troy Parrott having already missed three months as well, we are lucky Evans has started to find the net recently. Riis may have now suffered a reoccurrence of the injury which had kept him out the last few games so we are wafer thin again.

Whether it’s Cameron Archer or not, at least one more striker is a necessity this month.

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