Preston North End did their best to banish the memories of the defeat to Cardiff City as they battled to a 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday night.
They had 16 attempts on goal which was their most since the 2-2 draw with Wycombe Wanderers in December last year. In truth, none of the chances were clear cut, but there was at least some attacking threat this time round.
The majority of Preston’s attacks came through Anthony Gordon. Celebrating his 20th birthday he was by far and away the standout performer on the night.
Rightly given the man of the match award by Sky Sports, his side’s attack’s in the first half predominantly came down his left-hand side. Despite being so young, he has the confidence to take all the set-pieces too. When he goes one-on-one with a full-back you back him to come up with some trickery to beat them. He creates chances for himself and there’s no doubt that Preston have a talent on their hands here.
In the second half, he drifted over to the right-hand side at times and caused problems there too. It’s quite clear he has quickly become the talisman for the team in just his second start for the club.
With just 14 games of their Championship season to go, their fans should make the most of seeing Gordon in a North End shirt. Carlo Ancelotti is already a fan of the winger, and I would imagine he will be involved a lot more for The Toffees next season. Alex Neil needs to get the best out of him as soon as possible in order to help the side finish the season strongly.
Alan Browne returned to his more familiar role in the centre of midfield on Wednesday, but struggled alongside Ben Whiteman. The Irishman has impressed at right-back since the departure of Darnell Fisher in January; he’s able to make an impact on the game there, but as part of a midfield two he seems lost sometimes.
He was very sloppy against QPR and his performance was lacklustre, giving the ball away on numerous occasions. Under Alex Neil, he excelled in the number 10 role, and looked capable of scoring in every match during the 18/19 season.
Last season, Daniel Johnson made that place his own, whereas this campaign, nobody has nailed down that spot. The captain is certainly more comfortable in the hole as a number 10 than further back on the pitch.
One of his strongest attributes is driving forward with the ball, similar to Brad Potts. In a deeper role, he doesn’t look to have as much time on the ball and can often rush into the wrong pass.
Let’s not forget though, Alan Browne is still only 25-years-old. He is closing in on 300 appearances for the club, and he can still develop into an even better player. He’s already come on so much under Neil.
Brad Potts was handed a start by Neil as he looked to shake things up and keep it fresh. The team selection kept fans guessing at how the team would line up formation wise, and it was Potts who was played in the number 10 role just behind Ched Evans.
In the first half, Potts was arriving into the area trying to get on the end of things and was causing a nuisance to The ‘R’s defence. It’s something that Browne and Johnson, and the now-loaned-out Josh Harrop too don’t do as often when played there.
Potts is more of an imposing figure, and his physical presence can cause the opposition problems. Whilst his finishing was a bit off on Wednesday, he was certainly a good foil for Evans and linked up well with Gordon.
It was yet another new defensive lineup for North End as Liam Lindsay missed out with a knock. Surprisingly, Paul Huntington didn’t make a return to the side, and Andrew Hughes lined up at centre-back with Jordan Storey.
It’s clear that Neil is favouring a left footed centre-back since the departure of Ben Davies. Hughes of course is not a natural in that position, and to think from the start of the season The Lilywhites have gone from Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies to Jordan Storey and Andrew Hughes; it’s quite a difference.
Having said that, the latter contributed to a clean sheet, up against two very good strikers at this level in Charlie Austin and Lyndon Dykes. Sepp van den Berg made his first start at right-back and was comfortable throughout. A makeshift defence, but credit where it is due; that was the first clean sheet for six games.
Overall this side is very much still a work in progress. There’s good signs of things blossoming, but also some worrying areas too. The biggest concern maybe that even if Alex Neil gets this squad clicking and gelling together, how many will be here come next season?