What a shocker of a night.
Preston lost 1-0 at Derby County on Saturday, but this team usually responds to defeat. North End hadn’t lost two games in a row this season, so a tricky trip to Hull City was a chance to keep that going.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a horror show at the KCOM Stadium. Jarrod Bowen was a chief tormentor with two more goals to his name, whilst a Josh Magennis penalty and a Kamil Grosicki goal contributed to the hammering.
A 4-0 defeat means it’s the heaviest loss of the Alex Neil era. We’d lost by three on a number of occasions, but never by four. Neil will be cursing an absolute nightmare trip to Humberside, and it’s clear where the issues were coming from.
Full back decision laid bare
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the defence was the problem in a 4-0 defeat. However, you’d need to look at the makeup of the defence to get to the bottom of this one. It was right back Joe Rafferty at left back, midfielder Ryan Ledson at right back – for the first time – and Jordan Storey in with Patrick Bauer at centre back, after no league starts so far this season.
To say it was a disjointed backline would be kind. Ledson was a fish out of water at right back, and giving away a penalty just moments after being switched to the left summed his night up.
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Of course, injuries dragged us into that defence. Ben Davies wasn’t passed fit, Andrew Hughes is out with a broken foot, and Darnell Fisher wasn’t in the squad. Injury or being saved for West Brom? Who knows. Oh, and Alan Browne – North End’s makeshift right back – was missing too.
Reminiscent of the cursed Fisher-Browne-Boyle-O’Connor back line in 2017, this was a disaster. It once again calls back to decision making back in August.
Left back Josh Earl was sent to Bolton Wanderers, despite being the only real cover for Hughes. No replacement was brought in, forcing right back Rafferty to switch over to the left. Rafferty has been excellent this season, but having him playing at left back every week when he was supposed to be the cover for suspension-prone Fisher was a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Tonight, it was laid bare. A lack of cover in full back areas would be a problem in any game, but particularly in one against Grosicki, Bowen and Josh Bowler. Hull ran riot, and if Earl is staying at Bolton, then it’s imperative North End go and get another full back in January to try and stop this happening again.
No panic just yet
Two defeats in a row is a rarity for North End, and some fans have started hitting the panic button. Yet really, we knew what Preston were; a team that could take on anybody at full strength, but take out regulars – Davies, Fisher, Browne – and the cracks can appear.
This is a dismal defeat, granted, and two games without a goal is far from ideal. Yet we’re still fifth in the table, we’re still in a good position, we’re still a very dangerous side.
Squad depth concerns have been made clear tonight, and hopefully they’re addressed in January. To be fifth on the cusp of December is still a strong place to be in, and Alex Neil certainly won’t be throwing his toys out of the pram. His one concern will be the continued struggles away from home, with just two wins on the road this season and six goals scored.
It would have been great to go into Monday’s game with West Brom as a top of the table clash, and two defeats have been made to look even worse with West Brom and Leeds winning twice.
Still, we’re not even halfway through the season. There’s more than enough quality and character in this squad to hit back, but nights like tonight can’t become a habit if North End are to be in the promotion mix.