Preston North End got back to winning ways tonight, beating Bournemouth 3-2 with a superb performance at the Vitality Stadium.
Alex Neil’s side had been thumped against Blackburn Rovers and Watford over the last week, and needed a response – but a trip to a recently-relegated side didn’t seem ideal.
North End turned in a fantastic display, taking the lead through Tom Barkhuizen as he finished off a sweeping counter attack.
Scott Sinclair added a second with an audacious lob from at least 30 yards, before Patrick Bauer made it three, tucking home at the back post from a well-worked free kick.
An inch-perfect Junior Stanislas free kick and a Sam Surridge header set up a nervy finish, but Preston saw out more than 11 minutes of added time to leave with all three points.
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Firstly, let’s talk about the quality of the goals. They were all different, but all superb in their execution and proof of the quality that is lurking in the Preston side.
The first goal showed quick feet from Sinclair, hold up play from Maguire, a fine cross from Daniel Johnson and a tap-in from Barkhuizen following in at the back stick.
It was quick, incisive and a demonstration of perfect counter-attacking football, reminiscent of the goal Alan Browne scored away at Leeds almost a year ago.
The second was a moment of individual brilliance. Sinclair was again leading a counter attack, but having seen Asmir Begovic off his line, he executed a stunning lob to leave the Bosnian stranded.
This was one of Sinclair’s best displays for Preston. He took players on, he scored an outrageous goal, he used his experience in injury time to see out the game, and he had a huge hand in the third goal.
A slide-rule pass from Sinclair freed up Johnson inside the box, dissecting the Bournemouth defence with one pass. Johnson found Bauer to squeeze the ball home, and that proved to be the winner.
Of course, in true Preston fashion, the final stages weren’t going to be easy, but the tense, nervy finish certainly dispelled one myth – that this set of players aren’t playing for Alex Neil.
After Saturday’s thumping at Watford, comments such as ‘they’re not playing for him anymore’ and ‘he’s lost the dressing room’ were thrown out, which seemed completely bizarre.
What proof was there of this? Those are statements often wheeled out when a team starts losing, but was there ever any evidence to support such claims? Not from our position; the defeats weren’t a case of every player downing tools, rather two poor back-to-back displays against arguably stronger sides.
We’ve often explained our worries at the quality and strength of the Preston squad, and the backing Neil has received in recent years – and still stand by those comments – but effort and endeavour aren’t things this side lacks.
Tonight, Preston dispelled that myth. This group of players is still behind Neil. They executed his gameplan to perfection, hitting Bournemouth on the break when possible, slowing the game down when possible, fighting until the very last whistle.
Every player who contributed to tonight’s win deserves huge praise – and let’s hope they can now kick on again having shown they can go to one of the division’s so-called ‘big boys’ and come up with a superb win.