When you’re 2-0 down at home come half time and you’re down to 10 men, even eternal optimists would be forgiven for predicting a bleak second half. But this is a new era. This is Ryan Lowe’s Preston North End and times are changing.
Preston completed a memorable comeback to draw 2-2 against Sheffield United with a superb second half performance. The North End faithful came off Deepdale feeling better than they will have done after many wins.
Referee gets the assist for a memorable night
Let’s get this one out of the way. Sheffield United were cruising in the first half and didn’t need any help from the referee. When Rhian Brewster moves towards goal Andrew Hughes battles with him and they both fell to the ground. Any contact was initiated outside of the box and Brad Potts was covering anyway. Furthermore the £23.5 million signing showed in the second half through multiple missed chances that it was a hardly a goal scoring opportunity for him anyway. Brewster has scored just three goals in 43 appearances for the Blades and spent most of the second half trying to pick out fans with his shots on goal.
It was never a red card. Andrew Hughes can feel harshly done by and it threatened to ruin the game but no one could have predicted what was to come. It set up a classic evening under the floodlights at Deepdale.
Ryan Lowe couldn’t have got it more spot on
The manager immediately responded by replacing Scott Sinclair with Greg Cunningham. It was a shame for Sinclair as this was a rare opportunity for him and he went close with an effort on goal in the first half. He’s not a natural striker yet remains a quality finisher.
At half time another change was made. Joe Rafferty came on and made his first appearance under Lowe. Fair play to Rafferty he contributed to a great second half team performance. We stuck with a back five with Rafferty on the left and Tom Barkhuizen on the right. It kept us in the game as Sheffield United failed to apply the sucker punch to finish us off. It gave us a chance to salvage something in the last 20 minutes.
Lowe then brought on Ched Evans for Barky. We played a 4-3-2 which was risky but it showed we were going for it. Boy did it pay off!!
Fight, grit and determination from this team
Most managers; Alex Neil and Frankie McAvoy included, would be thinking of damage limitation at half time when you’re 2-0 down with 10 men up against a team full of players playing in the Premier League last season.
Despite a very poor half with 10 men, North End came out of the blocks fighting in the second half. They weren’t giving up on this one. Suddenly Ben Whiteman, Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne were closing down at every opportunity and flying into tackles to blunt The Blades.
The introduction of Ched Evans gave the side more fight up front as well. Suddenly the ball was sticking and we could create chances in the final third.
An unfamiliar back four continued to provide a sturdy back line and Sepp van den Berg relished the opportunity to glide forward at right back.
These lads were not giving up just yet. Ryan Lowe has clearly, already, instilled a battling attitude into the players. The fans can buy into that with ease and it showed in the second half. The fans could sense this game wasn’t over just yet and were willing them on to punish a presumptuous Sheffield United side. The players gave the fans something to believe in and vice versa.
The goals were wonderfully created
In these circumstances you would have taken two of the scrappiest goals ever seen. But Preston carved out some great chances in the second half. We had already come close through Browne, Riis and DJ before the captain gave us a fighting chance. A throw in from the left was flicked through to DJ before he cut it back to Browne who kept his shot low giving Wes Foderingham no chance.
The North End faithful smelled blood and knew this game wasn’t over just yet. There was still a chance to keep Lowe’s unbeaten record in tact.
The majority of the team looked tired but the fans gave them an extra 10% as they defended for their lives but then poured forward for another goal. Patrick Bauer fresh from his new contract showed his strength in the halfway line winning the ball and releasing Alan Browne. The Irishman bounded forwars before slipping through Ched Evans on the right.
His first time cross couldn’t have been put in a better place for Emil Riis to score his first goal under Lowe, at the far post. He let out a roar with his celebration in front of the Town End who bounced around in disbelief.
There were even chances to win the game. As five minutes stoppage time was announced there was encouragement from the crowd to find a winner, not just to hold on.
This is a new Preston North End. One led by the talismanic Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson. Ryan Lowe will have learned an awful lot about his players from Tuesday night. As they move above Blackpool in the league table, the future looks so much brighter for this club than the dark shadows that cast over it previously