He’s been out of favour for some time now, but Brandon Barker made a real impression last night.
Preston headed up to the Riverside Stadium to take on Middlesbrough on Tuesday night, seeking a sixth successive away win. Alex Neil decided to go with a 3-5-2 system to match up Boro – it didn’t work.
Alan Browne was woefully miscast as a right wing back before going off injured. Josh Earl struggled at left wing back too, and Boro took the lead through Ashley Fletcher.
Neil had to make changes at the break, and he did. Earl came off for Barker in an attacking change, reverting to the 4-1-4-1 system we’ve had success with lately.
Barker drew the foul which saw Daniel Ayala red-carded, and North End immediately took advantage with Paul Gallagher’s leveller. Barker then teed up Andrew Hughes’ shot for Jayden Stockley’s winner, handing North End a 2-1 win.
Barker’s pace and drive had the Boro defence terrified, and another solo run almost resulted in a Daniel Johnson goal late on. From nowhere, Barker showed the huge talent he has when he’s on his game.
Barker’s seven-minute cameo at Blackburn was his first action in two months. In 45 minutes last night though, Barker showed why he was brought to Deepdale in the first place.
The Manchester City loanee hasn’t quite hit the heights expected of him, only showing his ability in flashes. In January, Barker appeared frustrated at Deepdale having dropped out of the matchday squad to face Swansea City.
Now, Barker has put himself back in contention. His blistering pace is something North End often lack without Tom Barkhuizen, and he helped changed the game for Neil last night.
After the game, Neil told BBC Radio Lancashire that he thought Barker was ‘excellent’, also calling him ‘dynamic’. Neil added his explanation for why Barker has been missing of late, naming the options ahead of the 22-year-old right now.
“He was excellent,” said Neil. “He’s very dynamic, he gets at his full back and certainly when we needed width in the team, he added that. I think the issue we’ve got is, generally when we’ve got Alan, DJ, Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher, I try to fit them into my team, because they make a difference so often, and unfortunately for Brandon, that’s come at his cost. But today, he made a real positive contribution,” he added.
Barker needs a strong end to the season to put himself in contention for a permanent move, as one fine showing won’t be enough on that front. Yet Neil will now hope that Preston have another attacking threat to count on in the playoff race, after Barker dazzled against Boro.