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Preston North End 0 Watford 1 (16/02/2021) 17/02/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- One of the biproducts of lockdown(s) has been the scope to vastly expand what one watches and what one listens to.  After all, it stands to reason that if all you can do is watch telly and go for walks, you watch a lot of telly and if, like me, your bubble isn’t that into walking you spend a lot of time in fields with stuff in your ears.

TV then.  They’re not strictly box sets any more, are they?  Being digital and that?  But anyway.  Peaky Blinders (all 5 series), The Bridge (4), The Good Place (I can’t remember), The Bureau (2, before discovering I needed yet another subscription to watch the rest), Ozark (3), others I’ve forgotten probably.  And podcasts…  all sorts.  History…  a good story well told is a fine thing and Hardcore History does that in spades.  The story of the Great War told in six four hour episodes was extraordinary.  Ear Hustle, recorded and (normally) broadcast from San Quentin prison.  The Listening Project, diverse opinions but in an affable format.  The anti-Twitter.

And Football.  Obviously.  Relegation saw me pointed towards “Not the Top 20”, whose presenters have made a niche for themselves by being intelligent, well-informed and eloquent and pop up increasingly on TV coverage of the Football League also.  They’ve not been big on Watford this season and whilst it’s not been hard to see why, an “outsider” telling you hard truths about your own team does tend to get the heckles up, even when you were saying the same thing to your mate (who is one of us and therefore entitled to criticise) the previous afternoon.  Ask Troy.  Ask Arsenal.

Their take on Watford – Bristol City was case in point.  My post 6-0 bubble was burst by their observation that City were really terrible and contributed hugely to their downfall (which irked despite being patently true and me having written much the same on Saturday).  They also cited, not inaccurately, the other time we played well.  Preston at home, a 4-1 win, the first time that we thought we’d got our sh*t together.  Before drawing at Forest and losing at home to Cardiff.

2- So I was less buoyant than I had been as I settled down with a bowl of very spicy Click-and-Collect Wagamamas stuff to watch this one. Nervous, even.  What if this wasn’t the corner being turned?

Preston.  Where we never win.  In the cold, in the wet.  You can bet your life that if there had been fans there, more specifically if I’d gone up to Deepdale we wouldn’t have bloody won.

At least the team was relatively unchanged, the slightly curious decision to bring Craig Cathcart in for WTE the only change.  And we start… positively, cutting through in the first minute and pressurising keeper Iversen into a nervous clearance with his left foot and into touch. Sierralta strides out of defence and slides a ball through for Sema down the left, slightly overhit.  Cleverley surges diagonally right to left, finds Sema whose first time ball finds Chalobah, a corner results.

We get an early warning not to take anything for granted when Whiteman sends a wicked ball over the head of the dozy Sierralta to where Evans has snuck in, he fires criminally over as Bachmann comes out.  Both sides continue to look nervous in possession defensively on a bobbly pitch, but that’s the best Preston are going to manage and, indeed, the closest either side gets in the first half.

3- Superficially nothing has changed.  We’ve still got lots of possession, we’re still not scoring.  In reality everything’s changed.  There’s a purpose here, a conviction.  Whilst the mobile forward line is a big part of this, here it’s very much the three-man midfield that provides that surety.  We’re dominant in the centre of the pitch, both better with the ball and more robust physically than our opponents.  Cleverley stands out, operating at full throttle for the full ninety for the second time in four days.

We only manage half-chances.  Sarr, Chalo and Kiko combine down the right, a corner results.  We flood the penalty area but the best we’re going to get here is picking up the scraps on the edge of the box such is Preston’s height advantage.  Sarr and Hughes both try their luck without recording an effort on target.  Nonetheless.  There’s a sense of all-hands-on-deck in the Preston back line.  This is coming.

4- Preston present a challenge much more typical of the division than that presented by Bristol City’s car crash at the weekend.  Tough, strong, determined, without huge quality but with enough about them to trip you up if you’re off your game.

All things considered they’re doing well to be as obstructive as they are.  What looks like a negligent contract situation saw some key assets – Ben Pearson to Bournemouth, Ben Davies to Liverpool, Darnell Fisher to Middlesbrough – departing, presumably cheaply, within three days at the end of the transfer window rather than for nothing at the end of the season.  In their place have come Whiteman, who looks bedraggledly useful, and a load of loanees.

But we’re going to win this,  and we’re going to deserve to win it.  We’re noticeably sharper at the start of the second half, one touch passing where two might have been taken in the first.  Very quickly Adam Masina pops up on the left of the box and strokes a ball through for Sema to pull back.  Barkhuizen is careless and inattentive, João Pedro is quicker and cleverer and cool as ice when he converts the penalty.  He has to work hard for precious little throughout, but the Brazilian’s last couple of performances have been more mature than his nineteen years.

5- Briefly there’s a furious battle for the initiative, manifesting itself in a frantic scramble devoid of controlled possession.  The home side have their best spell here and carve out a couple of chances but never look composed enough to get as much as a shot on target.  And now there’s space for us to flow into, which is a thing of great joy even if we don’t get another goal out of it.  A tremendous break from left to right sees Chalobah feed Femenía; he takes a heavy touch, he’s still not far away.

Sarr was involved in that break, and has been wandering away from the right flank.  Like João Pedro he suddenly looks mature and confident rather than the slightly nervous, sulky, lost kid that we’ve seen throwing his arms around like Kevin the teenager at the lowest points of the season.  Much of his best work here is defensive…. assertive, aggressive, getting stuck in.  Imagine being up against him?  Bastard quick is one thing.  But he tackles back too…..

Ken has had a relatively quiet game but weebles his way down the left one more time, defiantly refusing to cede possession until he’s unbalanced before being replaced by Philip Zinckernagel.  Once again, Zinc looks dangerous in both halves, and we’d much rather he spent time on the edge of their box than ours, where he invites unnecessary risk with too flamboyant a touch.  Late in the game he shows his value at the other end, linking up with Gosling after a quick Cleverley free kick, his deft rapier thrust of a pass creates a chance for Gosling that’s as close as we come to a second.

Instead we settle for one, and an edgy fingers-in-scalp last five minutes in which the threat is largely hypothetical but, you know.  One-nil is only an unlucky deflection away from two points dropped.  Preston’s threat is all from set pieces by now, as revealed by Cleverley’s frustration at conceding what will be their last chance to nick a point.  They don’t take it, Sierralta making up for a first half in which Evans exposed him more than once by getting his head to everything that needs a head gotten to.

Less spectacular than Saturday.  Less dramatic.  Just as exciting in its own way.  A confident, assertive, mature away performance.  A 1-0 forced by force of personality, rather than a piece of quality in a sea of sludge.

We look convincing.

Bring on everyone.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Femenía 3, Cathcart 3, Sierralta 4, Masina 4, Hughes 3, *Cleverley 4*, Chalobah 4, Sarr 4, João Pedro 4, Sema 3
Subs:  Gosling (for Chalobah, 73) 3, Perica (for João Pedro, 81) NA, Zinckernagel (for Sema, 81) NA, Troost-Ekong, Lazaar, Wilmot, Hungbo, Gray, Elliot

Comments»

1. Stuart - 17/02/2021

Good report Matt. As you say, a nice away win that last week I would have had down as a 1-0 Preston / 0-0

A few podcast recommendations should you want any for your walks, both very good history pods with a comic twist

Blowback – 10 part on the history of Iraq war
The Dollop – weekly mixed subjects

Matt Rowson - 17/02/2021

Thanks Stuart, will give them a listen

2. RS - 17/02/2021

As ever very well observed but I would add one point, JP appears to have learned the skill of “running” off the pitch when substituted at rate slower than he can probably walk; superb combination of moon walk and funeral march.

3. simmos - 17/02/2021

Great report as always but I noticed a serious problem or deliberate mistake. Wagamama’s on pancake day is simply unacceptable

4. Graham French - 17/02/2021

Not glamorous but in it’s own way as a good a win as Saturday’s gluttonous feast. Hopefully we haven’t entirely given up free scoring for Lent. Bring on Friday’s game on the bowling green!

5. Harefield Hornet - 17/02/2021

Especially enjoyed seeing Pedro and Sarr winning the ball back and working hard. Thought the midfield were magnificent – little to chose between them for skill and sheer effort. At one point Hughes seemed to throw himself about 12 feet into the air to win a header. Great stuff all round .

6. JP - 17/02/2021

A really heartening result to follow up Saturday. Wish we didn’t have to rely so heavily on penalties but that’s a small point. Assuming it is not long term, Troy’s injury could be a blessing. Less distracting than “dropped/rested” and raring to go for the run in. It may be stating the obvious, but it’s about how you finish the season. Now is just the right time to go on that long run. Fingers crossed.
And if you want hardcore history I’d thoroughly recommend Ken Burns’ Civil War. It’s up there with the very best and gives context on America’s later reluctance to join the two wars in Europe.
Great report as ever COYH

Matt Rowson - 17/02/2021

Thx JP

7. Ray Knight - 18/02/2021

Luv the non-footie detail Matt. On recent TV I have enjoyed The Serpent (hard to believe but some of it filmed in Tring), The Great and It’s a Sin. Some great script writing and production values despite COVID. Ah back to the football. I agree Sarr is maturing fast (as is JP) and is starting to shrug off the agricultural challenges. PZ and Gosling integrating nicely and in one move combining well in attack. It’s not a great game but our quality is matched by a steely determination. Hard yards from Cleverley and Chabs, but Hughes is like a metronome making us tick. Kiko had another standout performance for me, always energetic and in full control at this level. Can we do it again come Friday and next midweek? I don’t see why not if the keep up this work rate. COYHs!


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