Preston moved back into the top six on Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win away at Wigan Athletic.
North End made the short trip to the DW Stadium in search of a second win over the Latics this season, having beaten them 3-0 at Deepdale back in August.
Alex Neil saw his side go ahead through Tom Barkhuizen, as Ben Pearson picked out a defence-splitting pass to Daniel Johnson, who squared the ball for Barkhuizen to tap home.
Barkhuizen returned the favour in the second half, finishing off a flowing move by pulling back for Johnson to fire home, and whilst Chey Dunkley did give Wigan some hope by pulling a goal back, North End held on for all three points.
The game followed a certain pattern; Preston looked strong in the first half of each half, before having to dig in and stay strong in the second half of each half, but there was one constant – Ben Pearson’s excellence.
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North End’s anchor man was in full wind-up mode on Saturday; appealing for a free kick after colliding with the referee, going down ‘injured’ only to jump up when the ball came his way so he could waste some more time, and even holding up his Sky Sports man of the match award to the Wigan fans at full time.
We all know Pearson has this side of his game. He’s the player most Championship fans love to hate, as his…let’s call it ‘gamesmanship’ has earned him a certain reputation, as has his frankly absurd disciplinary record over the last three-and-a-half years.
Yet that does Pearson a disservice; he’s not a hatchet man, he’s not merely in the side to kick and foul and cheat. He’s outstanding on the ball, his passing range doesn’t earn nearly enough credit, he starts attacks, he reads the game well, he protects his back four, he will obviously put his foot in, and he is absolutely relentless in terms of his work rate.
Put simply, Pearson is too good for the Championship. The Premier League surely beckons for Pearson next season, whether that’s with Preston or another side. His disciplinary issues are probably the only factor that has held Pearson back from making that jump, but his quality is now being recognised.
After Barkhuizen’s goal against Wigan, Sky Sports pundit Danny Higginbotham suggested that Pearson’s use of the ball ‘very rarely gets mentioned’, believing that everybody just focuses on his defensive play, but he’s far more than that, and praised him for his ‘absolutely magnificent’ pass for that opening strike.
“We’ve been associating Pearson with his defensive attributes, how he protects the two centre backs, but one thing that very rarely gets mentioned is his use of the ball,” said Higginbotham. “This is an absolutely magnificent ball,” he added.
Clubs are no doubt taking notice of Pearson, so let’s enjoy him – with his quality on the ball and his innate ability to wind up opposition fans and players – whilst he’s here.