Preston picked up their first win of the season on Saturday afternoon, comfortably beating Wigan Athletic 3-0 at Deepdale.
North End needed a strong performance after some fan unrest after the transfer deadline, and produced just that. Alex Neil’s men controlled the game from the first whistle, making a huge improvement on the 1-0 defeat to Millwall.
Seani Maguire headed home Paul Gallagher’s early corner after a period of sustained pressure, before Daniel Johnson picked out Louis Moult in acres of space to head in the second.
Gallagher got on the scoresheet himself, hammering a free kick into the top corner from a Johnson lay-off. In truth, it could have been more, but 3-0 reflected the comfortable nature of the win.
Here are five big talking points from the game – and it’s a mostly positive set this week…
Bauer dominates Moore
Joe Garner was substituted in the first half after taking a Ben Pearson shot to the face, and Kieffer Moore came on in his place. The giant striker recently joined Wigan from Barnsley, and it seemed written in the stars that he would score against North End having been a top target for PNE last summer. However, Moore barely had a chance to trouble Declan Rudd, and that was partly down to Patrick Bauer’s display. The German dominated Moore, winning more aerial duels this weekend than any other player in the Championship. Bauer is exactly what North End needed; an aerially dominant centre back of a good age without breaking the bank. He dovetails perfectly with the more mobile and technical Ben Davies, and their partnership already looks promising. Preston had issues against target man last season – Atdhe Nuhiu springs to mind – but Bauer completely nullified Moore in a superb display outside of his one first half error.
Maguire finds his position
Last week, Seani Maguire’s role in Alex Neil’s side was criticised. The Irishman was used as the sole striker against Millwall, and it’s easy to see why Neil went with that. Maguire’s movement posed problems to the Millwall defence at The New Den last term, and was hoping for a similar impact. That didn’t work, as North End went too direct, too often against Millwall – not ideal with Maguire just 5ft 9in. Against Wigan, Maguire was shifted out to the left flank, and was superb. He was able to pick the ball up and drive at his full back, whilst also having the ability to drift inside and join the attack. He’s not a like-for-like Callum Robinson replacement, but he has played on the left before for Neil, particularly impressing there in 2017 as support for Jordan Hugill. Hopefully Maguire can now settle into that role, and prove that Saturday’s display wasn’t a one-off.
Louis Moult seizes his surprise opportunity
Before the game, you could have asked for about 20 line-up predictions, and few would have had Louis Moult starting. Not only had Moult been the subject of interest from three clubs according to the LEP, but he wasn’t even involved against Millwall. To go from that to starting was a major surprise, but Moult took his chance. He worked unbelievably hard, his link-up play was outstanding even against giant centre back and ex-Motherwell teammate Cedric Kipre, and he capped it off with a goal. His effort was summed up by chasing Antonee Robinson all the way up the left flank to win the ball back, before being bizarrely penalised for a foul. We’ve wondered before whether Moult’s future lies away from Deepdale, as Neil had other options in attack and interest was mounting. Yet with Maguire better on the left and David Nugent injured again, this is now a golden chance for Moult to become Preston’s leading striker in a stunning turnaround.
Incredible midfield depth
North End’s control of the game was the result of three superb midfield displays, as Ben Pearson, Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson all impressed. Johnson was given a more advanced role, ironically against the team who tried to sign him this summer. He picked up a fine assist for Moult’s goal, and his movement dragged Wigan around. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he showed his quality against the Latics, as well as the incredible depth Neil has in midfield. Those three started, meaning Alan Browne – a Neil favourite – and Brad Potts were on the bench. Add in that Josh Harrop and new signing Tom Bayliss couldn’t get in the squad, and Ryan Ledson was unavailable through suspension, and North End have midfield options that many will envy.
Concern over Hughes
The one blot on the copy book concerns Andrew Hughes. The left back turned in a fine display, but may now be injured. Hughes went rampaging forward as the game came to an end, but pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury. The Welshman may now miss Tuesday’s trip to Bradford, and it’s unclear just how serious the injury is. North End loaned out second choice left back Josh Earl until January, and with a bid for Max Lowe failing, Neil is left short at left back. It’s sod’s law that Hughes had to get injured almost immediately after the close of the transfer window, just as many fans raised concerns about the lack of left back depth. Hopefully Hughes is back sooner rather than later, but this is certainly something to be worried about.