Preston North End fell to just a third defeat of the season by losing 2-1 to Bristol City on Wednesday evening.
Ryan Lowe’s men were in great spirits having picked up two wins in a row, beating West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City.
Another long trip faced North End as they travelled down to Bristol City, which has been a fairly happy hunting ground in recent times.
Not this time though. North End went behind to Rob Atkinson’s opener before appearing to snatch a point through an Andrew Hughes leveller.
Instead, Atkinson bagged a late winner to give Bristol City a 2-1 victory.
Awkward back three
Jordan Storey’s yellow card at Norwich City left Preston with issues at the back.
Storey has been Preston’s right-sided centre back this season but he was suspended at Bristol City.
Bambo Diaby is backup in that area but he hadn’t played a single minute this season and Ryan Lowe clearly felt that it wasn’t right to throw him in.
Patrick Bauer isn’t really suited to playing as a right-sided centre back in a three, leaving Lowe with a tough decision.
In the end, Lowe went with Andrew Hughes as the right centre back, meaning North End’s entire back three – Hughes, Liam Lindsay and Greg Cunningham – are all naturally left-footed.
Add in left-footed wing backs in Alvaro Fernandez and Robbie Brady and it was just all a little awkward at the back.
Hughes lost the ball from the kick off and then a right-footed clearance went straight to Bristol City, with the Welshman just looking uncomfortable in the first half.
Storey is thankfully back against Stoke City this weekend and Lowe will be hoping to avoid playing this back three again in the future.
Set piece nightmares
Preston have been pretty solid defensively this season so to concede two cheap goals from set pieces will really annoy Lowe.
The first was so frustrating. A corner just wasn’t cleared probably and as North End failed to clear their lines, Atkinson was on hand to head home a Mark Sykes cross.
With the clock ticking down, Preston just had to deal with another corner.
Instead, Alex Scott’s delivery flew over Liam Lindsay, Freddie Woodman couldn’t claim it and Atkinson was able to dive in and head home the winner.
They were two cheap goals – Bristol City will feel similarly about Hughes’ leveller – and Lowe will be gutted to have lost it in that fashion.
Attacking substitutions a concern
We all knew that Troy Parrott’s injury would leave Preston short of attacking numbers.
We didn’t quite expect it to mean that Bambo Diaby would be thrown on as a makeshift striker as North End chased a goal.
Now, this isn’t exactly Graham Westley starting Aaron Brown up front away at Sheffield Wednesday.
Lowe had one final roll of the dice and just tried to create some chaos in the Bristol City back line by throwing the imposing Diaby into the final third.
Other substitutions didn’t really work though; Ben Woodburn had a go but one shot and one dribble with no chances created is maybe a little less than Lowe would have wanted in his 35-minute display.
Ched Evans also came on with 15 minutes to go but couldn’t get the ball to stick in attack, never mind look like scoring.
This is the reality for Preston with Parrott out until after the World Cup; hoping that players can find some form or go with makeshift options up top, and neither will inspire much confidence.
Hoping for positive injury news
The injury to Parrott on Saturday has been a major blow for North End and Lowe must now hope for some better news.
Alvaro Fernandez went off injured against Bristol City and there will be fears that the knock to his shin will keep him out against Stoke.
Liam Lindsay – formerly of Stoke – also suffered a knock last night and will be monitored ahead of Saturday’s game.
There are already concerns about Preston’s squad depth, and they will only be exacerbated if Lindsay and Fernandez join Parrott on the treatment table.
It’s not all doom and gloom
Look, we’re as disappointed as everybody else after this defeat.
North End didn’t turn up at all and even when they got back to the stage of taking a point, they let it slip with a cheap goal.
You can though point to some tiredness in the camp, especially with a number of players suffering from a sickness bug in recent days.
Two long trips in a matter of days isn’t going to help either and with games piling up ahead of the World Cup, there may simply be games where it doesn’t quite click.
North End have proven they can beat the likes of West Brom and Norwich, so this defeat shouldn’t dent the confidence too much.
Heading back to Deepdale against Alex Neil’s Stoke City this weekend will hopefully help North End get back on track and stay in touch with the top six.