A late own goal from Matt Grimes gave Preston their first win away to Swansea City for 60 years.
In a game that they dominated, it looked to be heading to a 0-0 draw before a rebounded Scott Sinclair shot gave North End all three points. The table now looks a lot healthier as Rotherham United lost 3-0 to Wycombe Wanderers.
For Frankie McAvoy, it’s now four points from his first two games in charge, and a clear sign of improvement since Alex Neil’s departure.
Another different shape
McAvoy went with a diamond formation last Friday against Norwich City and on Monday he chose to play with wing-backs. It was probably aimed at matching up with Swansea but Steve Cooper decided to play a back four for just the second time this season.
Tom Barkhuizen and Andrew Hughes took up the wing-back positions, and Sepp van den Berg, Liam Lindsay and Jordan Storey made up the back three. A clean sheet was kept with ease as Swansea struggled to create any real chances. Daniel Iversen had little to do in goal, and the Welsh side were very poor in truth.
From an attacking point of view, Brad Potts was a constant thorn in Swansea’s side playing just behind the front two. He had the main chances for North End with one in the first half having come from a lovely weighted pass from Ryan Ledson after he played a one-two with Ched Evans. With Ben Whiteman and Ledson sitting behind Potts, it gave the team great balance.
Evans and Emil Riis again were a nuisance up front. McAvoy obviously likes those two up front, and whilst they aren’t always the most clinical, their continuous running and aerial threat makes spaces for others, like Potts.
Attacking on the front foot
Preston took the game to Swansea and it was refreshing to see. Although the home side arrived into this game on the back of three straight defeats, Preston fans wouldn’t have been surprised to see their side tentatively head into this fixture and sit back hoping to nick a point.
That wasn’t the case. They smelt blood from the first minute and looked to carve openings straight away. A more clinical side would have put this game to bed a lot earlier than the 91st minute. Whilst Preston’s chances weren’t clear cut, they had a lot of possession in the final third and should have done better on a few occasions.
Plenty of chances were created though, and it was largely down to good running off the ball. There was overlapping out wide, as well as runs down the middle too. Preston looked to play the ball forward on every occasion and they were quick in doing so. Many times this season, they have been frustrating to watch, and it has seemed like there is no real plan. The ball is passed around at the back before an aimless long ball. At least now if there is a long ball played, there are two strikers up there challenging for it, and some runners looking for the second ball too.
More fight from the team
As Glen Johnson said on Sky Sports News after covering the game, Preston were first to every second ball, they won the majority of the aerial battles and they were the only team who looked like winning the game. They are little things, but they go a long way to determining the outcome of the game. We lacked that fight in the last few months under Alex Neil, and when the losses start to mount up, confidence starts to drop.
Whilst it was a shame to see Neil leave, it was clear a change was needed. The players have had some time to regroup and come back fresh for this running. Although we are only two games into the new reign, giant strides have been taken. Under Neil, you would not have predicted any points from high flyers Norwich and Swansea. Yet we have managed to come away with four.
The lads have battled to the very end in both games, and they have reaped the rewards from that. It’s amazing what that can do for confidence. You can tell from the celebrations how much it means to the team, and they will head into the Brentford game at Deepdale on Saturday raring to go.
McAvoy made the right subs at the right time
With five out of nine substitutes available to Championship managers these days, it’s easy to throw them all on in search of a result, but in actual fact it disrupts the game, and there’s too much change for it to give you dividends. It was great to see Louis Moult named amongst the substitutes on Monday, but the interim manager chose to make just the two changes during the game.
In the 75th minute Sinclair came on to replace Riis. For me, this was the correct substitution to make. We were enjoying a lot of possession down the middle, and the Sinclair is one of the more technical players in the squad. He is very good in tight spaces, and if given the chance is usually great at finishing too. He caused problems when he came on, and although a little greedy at times, his quick reactions led to the goal. He was straight onto Whiteman’s shot which he controlled well and although his effort was saved by Freddie Woodman; the on-loan Newcastle United keeper, the save bounced off captain Matt Grimes and into the net.
The other substitution was replacing Brad Potts who had run himself into the ground and on came Jayson Molumby. When you are pushing for a winner, and have five subs available to you, it can be easy to try all five and hope it pays off. Paul Gallagher, Billy Bodin, Tom Bayliss and Louis Moult were also available to him. However the players who had started the game had played very well, and McAvoy only chose to tinker things slightly and it paid off.
On a day which would have marked Sir Tom Finney’s 99th birthday, Preston North End were able to celebrate an important win.