After four weeks without a game, Preston North End turned up at Ewood Park with arguably their most complete performance of the season. They dominated Blackburn Rovers, and came away with a 4-1 win that takes them up to fourth place in the Championship.
A surprising squad selection
Eyebrows were raised when the Preston team sheet was released an hour before kick off. After four weeks without a game and no new injury problems having been mentioned previously, we were expecting a strong squad to be available aside from the existing lay-off for Troy Parrott.
However it turned out that six first-team players wouldn’t be available for the game against Blackburn Rovers, Alan Browne, Emil Riis, Robbie Brady, Ali McCann, Andrew Hughes and Sean Maguire were all ruled out.
It meant we had to go with a striker partnership of Ched Evans and Ben Woodburn and we had four players on the bench aged 18 or under. One in Noah Mawene who played 62 minutes for the youth team just the day before. Preston born Finlay Cross-Adair ended up coming on for the last few minutes to soak up the enjoyable atmosphere in just his second ever professional game. Mawene followed in the footsteps of his father Youl by playing for the first-team, and Mikey O’Neill and Regan Slater also came on.
Ledson shows he’s worth his new deal straight away
Fresh from signing a new contract on Friday, Ryan Ledson was handed a start in the Preston midfield for the Lancashire derby. He loves these types of games, and will never shy away from a tackle. Within the first two minutes he got stuck in, winning the ball superbly but it resulted in Callum Brittain sustaining an injury which meant he had to go off a few minutes later. It set the tone for the game which is so important in this type of fixture.
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‘The Rhino’ as he is called by his teammates was key for the opening goal of the game as well. He intercepted a Blackburn ball forward in the middle of the park, and with the same touch played it through to Ched Evans. The Welshman then released Woodburn with a perfectly weighted pass, and he then calmly scored his first Championship goal for the club.
Great first half intensity
The Ledson tackle early doors really did put Preston on the front foot straight away. In harsh Lancashire winter conditions Preston showed in the first half they were up for this battle. They have too many recent memories of derby games where we haven’t shown up, and they were determined to try and control this game.
In the first 45 minutes Blackburn were struggling to get out of their own half, and their fans were turning on them. North End were closing down their opposition at every opportunity and Brad Potts in particular was a constant thorn in their side. It was great to see, when sometimes we can be a bit slow to start these games, and after four weeks off it could have taken a bit of time to get into. Instead it was possibly our strongest 45 minutes of the season.
DJ key to cementing the win in the second half
The Blackburn players still hadn’t defrosted for the second half, and Evans, Woodburn and Johnson were playing a very high line, and it forced them into a mistake. Rovers paid the price for trying to play it out from the back, and Johnson was able to square it for Evans who scored his 100th goal in English league football.
Jon Dahl Tomasson was then set to make a triple substitution but then Preston were found sleeping at the back as well. Alvaro Fernandez was caught out and played past too easily. A cross was played deep into the box and all the defence stood off the ball, leaving Bradley Dack loads of space to pull one back for Rovers.
You could have easily seen Rovers pulling level then with so long to play, but North End kept piling forward. They got their third when Greg Cunningham picked out an unmarked Evans in the box to head home. The fourth was then liquid football, and something Brazil would have been proud of.
Fernandez dragged the ball back across the edge of the box before DJ laid it off with a backheel for Ben Whiteman to run onto. His shot took a slight deflection on its way past Thomas Kaminski, and the North End fans were sent into delirious raptures. It was good to see Johnson in an advanced role, and the captain on the day played a big part in the win. Hopefully he can carry on that form.
Evans continues his great form
After going nearly a whole year without a goal, not many would have predicted Evans to score five in his last three games. Some very good goals in that time as well, with three great headers. Four of them have come live on television as well, and in a season where we were struggling to score at all, it’s greatly welcomed. 18 goals in the 21 games before today, and then four in one match. Riis needs someone else to chip in with the goals and now Evans is contributing.
Before the game Tommy Spurr led out the teams having represented both sides in his career. He is now retired but unfortunately his four-year-old son Rio is undergoing treatment for cancer who was by his side at the game. You can read more about his story and also donate if you please can so Rio can receive the best possible care and treatment here: Fundraiser for Thomas Spurr by Dan Jordan : All for Rio (gofundme.com)