It’s been an up and down campaign for Preston North End but at least they were able to end it on a high with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over a Middlesbrough side who were chasing a play-off place before the game began.
It was an emotional day for the club as it saw the end of Paul Huntington’s North End career, but it was great to send him off with a win and arguably the best performance of the season.
Boro carved open with ease
It was only two games ago when Preston turned in one of the worst displays of the season when they played Blackburn Rovers at Deepdale.
At the time Rovers were chasing a top six spot and North End had nothing to play for.
Saturday’s matchup was a similar story with Middlesbrough needing to win to have a chance of extending their season.
Luckily for us, Ryan Lowe’s side turned up this time and simply blew Boro away.
Everything clicked on the day, with the midfield controlling the game for the first time in quite a while. Cameron Archer and Emil Riis linked up well and both were clearly keen to grab some more goals to finish the season on the high.
Archer’s run and timely pass through to Riis for the third goal of the day was exquisite, and his finish was that from a man with high confidence.
For a Middlesbrough side who have looked very threatening under Chris Wilder, and have knocked out Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur of the FA Cup this season, they lacked any creativeness and composure. Even when they did get a goal back through Marcus Tavernier they failed to generate any momentum to complete a comeback.
DJ on the left worked again
Daniel Johnson started in the left wing-back role against Barnsley last week and stood out scoring two goals on the day. He kept that same role on Saturday meaning Ali McCann could line up in the middle of the park again.
Both players had another good game, and DJ seems comfortable in that role. We know all about his attacking threat, but McCann is able to cover him when he goes forward as well. They were up against Isaiah Jones of Middlesbrough on that side of the pitch who has been one of their best players this season, and he was kept very quiet on the day.
I’m sure Lowe will want a more natural player in that position, but if it’s a way of getting DJ, McCann, Ben Whiteman and Alan Browne in the team then it may be used a bit more often next season.
Especially with Andrew Hughes in the left sided centre-back position, who would provide good support for DJ, I expect Lowe to keep it in mind during pre-season at least.
Emil Riis emulates Richard Cresswell with 20 goals
At the halfway point of this season, the Dane was well on course for 20 goals in all competitions, and it even led me to check the history books to see exactly when we did last have someone in the Championship or second tier hit that mark.
It was Richard Cresswell in the 2004/05 season and Jonathan Macken a few years before him as well, the only ones to do so in the last 40 years. Riis was on 11 goals by the end of October but headed into the final game of the season needing two to make sure he ended on 20.
He looked to have got one in the first half, but it did end up going down as a Dael Fry own goal. The third of the game was a lovely chipped finish over Luke Daniels, and with many thinking he was on a hat-trick he was giving the penalty to seal the game.
With or without that ‘own goal’ Riis has 20 goals. Not many would have predicted that at the beginning of the season, and it gives us confidence going forward. We will need someone else to chip in with a few goals up front though. Archer returning would be nice, but there will have to be back-up options too.
Not a dry eye in the stadium
With not much to play for as far as Preston were concerned, the main thing most supporters were looking forward to was seeing Paul Huntington pulling on the Lilywhite shirt for one last time.
Huntington received a standing ovation when he warmed up near the Town End and you could sense it was going to be an emotional occasion when he did come on. Chris Wilder had already gone over to him before the game to say a few words, and Sol Bamba at half time too, showing the respect he has across the game.
‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’ was sung throughout the game, and when he took his tracksuit off, and stepped up to the fourth official, it ramped up a few more notches.
Bambo Diaby made way for him, and then was a huge roar when Huntington took to the pitch for the 306th and final time as a Preston North End player. Alan Browne putting the captain’s armband on for him was a lovely touch as well.
I’m sure the moment would have got to Huntington as well. A fairly quiet and reserved player off the pitch, he has always been respected by his teammates and fans.
The other substitutions were also welcomed, with Mikey O’Neill getting some more time on the pitch and being compared to Kaka by one Middlesbrough reporter.
Ryan Ledson made a welcome return as well after recovering from knee surgery. He wasn’t expected to play again this season but made it back for this game.
His first touch of the ball was taking a corner. He picked out Huntington with it who couldn’t quite guide his header goalwards. But that would have capped off what was already a great day to be at Deepdale.