Arriving into Preston ahead of my first trip to Deepdale, I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn’t heard much about the city deep in the heart of Lancashire, but I had preconceptions of an industrious landscape, run down by austerity, and starved of architectural beauty.
How wrong was I? By no means a city designed by the artistically cultivated eye of Gaudi, but charming nevertheless, with a grand, old Victorian Cathedral at its centre.
Unfortunately, my arrival and the stroll through the city centre was the highlight to what was another frustrating afternoon for those of a red and white persuasion.
Heading into the game relatively optimistic despite coming off the back of two poor results, I wasn’t expecting much from a Preston side who we made light work of on the final day of last term.
Changes were expected from last week’s series of results, and there were few complaints when the team sheet popped up on our social media feeds at the stroke of 2. Hemir was the only omission from the team that started against Ipswich last Sunday, with Bradley Dack given his first league start as a false nine.
With Hemir, our only out-and-our striker on the bench, we were back to relying heavily on the creative flair of Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts wreaking havoc down the left and right flanks, and Jobe looking to operate in pockets of space around the final third.
We started relatively brightly, and seemed to have a good handle on the game, Preston looked how they did back in May; unthreatening and toothless up front.
After a number of characteristically mazy runs from Patrick Roberts down the right, and Jack Clarke predictably, but effectively cutting in on his right foot, it prompted calls from our end of “these are shite, these”, which invariably tempted fate and meant that Preston went 1-0 up after yet another deflection sent Anthony Patterson the wrong way, meaning two thirds of the goals we’d conceded in the league this season had been down to a dangling foot diverting the ball past a helpless Patto.
We retorted within six minutes after Roberts was clumsily brought down in the box. Penalty Sunderland. Jack Clarke converted calmly from the spot.
Going into the break all-square, we seemed to be largely in control, but that cutting edge in front of goal was eluding us once more.
The start to the second-half was what many a seething 44-year-old would consider “pwoooah”. Preston scored on the hour mark and, yep, you guessed it another deflected goal, taking the number of goals conceded from deflections this season to 75%. When it rains it pours, and luck just wasn’t on our side.
Jobe and Dack off. Hemir and Pritchard on. Unfortunately, their impact was limited to a few threatening attacks that were either squandered or thwarted by Preston, who seemed to sit deeper and deeper as the game went on, in increasing numbers, too.
We were given just five minutes of added time to chase a one goal deficit compared to last week’s 13, but like last week, we couldn’t make the breakthrough, subsequently leaving Deepdale with nothing, and yet to register our first points of the season.
Dan Neil has a habit of drifting in and out of games, a trait that is unhelpful at the best of times, especially when chasing a lead. It wasn’t Ekwah’s finest hour and a half, either.
Wasteful in possession, and partly at fault for their winner, pulling out of a challenge in an attempt to backtrack was indicative of our young side’s naivety.
Jobe was productive once again, but was brought off on the hour mark, with his efficiency both on and off the ball waining as the game went on. Our midfield could certainly benefit from a calmer, more experienced head in there to help guide the others, as seen with the partnership Corry Evans and Dan Neil struck up last season.
This inexperienced side needs time to grow, develop, and gel together, and it is clear Mowbray is still trying to figure out his best XI. Unfortunately, doing so has been to the detriment of our initial performances, and temporary solutions are needed quickly while we establish how to fit this complex, albeit incredibly talented puzzle together.
The striker situation will resolve itself one way or another, Ross Stewart will return eventually, and you’d expect another new, more seasoned forward face through the door, and with Tony Mowbray throttling Kristjaan Speakman in midweek, one would suspect that new arrival will be imminent.
We’ve no time for bed-wetting at this early stage, and it’s as important now as it has ever been to keep the faith, and back this talented side.