Preston blow away the cobwebs in a welcomed run out against Northern Premier League side Bamber Bridge. Two unanswered first half goals settled the tie, as both sides failed to convert in the second half despite a host of chances.
In the opening few minutes, it really was just a case of settling down and stringing a few simple passes together. But in those first stages, it was Brig who looked the better of the two sides as they recycled the ball well and probed Preston’s backline.
Winger Ryan White caught my eye, a player who re-joined Brig after a stint with FC United. An excellent ball-carrying footballer, he troubled North End early on, but it wasn’t long before Preston began to settle on the ball and execute some fine passages of play.
After being quite direct initially, Preston won a corner on the 10 minute mark and this would be the first flash point in the game.
Josh Harrop’s delivery was flicked on by an unmarked Louis Moult before eventually being stabbed home by skipper Tom Clarke. After that, PNE dominated proceedings, defending sharply and attacking quickly.
Harrop, Preston’s set-piece specialist, was one of our better players and you could tell he was raring to go after such a lengthy injury lay off. The former Manchester United prospect featured on the left wing, but often cut across the pitch to link up with Moult and Burke, allowing Hughes to advance on the overlap.
It was refreshing to see him back in action and he is certainly a player that will pose Alex Neil a selection headache come August.
Another notable performance came from the hard-working Louis Moult. Opportunities to impress were few and far between for Moult last season, and you could tell he was relishing his time as the lone striker – holding up play, troubling the defence and feeding the attackers. And he fully deserved his goal, which came just beyond the half hour mark, as Burke flicked the ball to Moult who rifled home into the bottom left-hand corner.
Moult, to our surprise, formed an effective partnership with Burke, who was playing in the number ten role. Burke looked busy in the first half, and even found the back of the net from range with a fierce strike, but to the Irishman’s dismay, the effort was chalked off for an apparent hand ball: the ball catching Storey on the wrist.
While Tom Barkhuizen, who has just one year left on his current contract, made less of an impact, he still appeared sharp with a number of progressive runs that highlighted just how important he can be with his raw pace.
Further back, Daniel Johnson struggled to really get into the game while Ryan Ledson, who was operating as the midfield number four, often looked too eager to make a challenge. However, he did impress when he advanced further up the field, looking to create chances and change the game.
Defensively, PNE had a solid first half. Storey and Davies picked up from where they left off last season, winning everything that came their way and stepping up to intercept any danger as it appeared.
Davies showed just how important it is that we have a left-footed central defender, often moving over to cover for Hughes while Storey looked dominant and powerful in the centre.
Hughes made plenty of direct runs into attacking areas and although he created very little, he did manage a shot on goal. On the other side, skipper Clarke was as dependable as usual, getting the simple stuff right.
Wholesale changes took effect in the second half, as Alex Neil opted to field a new-look XI.
And although neither side could find the back of the net, both Preston and Brig had their chances.
In fact, it was Brig who started the stronger of the two sides as Preston looked unsettled at the back.
New signing Patrick Bauer, understandably, lacked composure and forward Wisdom took advantage as his effort struck the foot of the post.
But Bauer, who partnered Paul Huntington, would grow into the game and begin to show more promising signs. For one, he looked strong on the ball, but he also stepped forward well into midfield and constantly looked for the diagonal pass.
In the right back slot, Joe Rafferty was largely untroubled, although was perhaps a little too selfless when he opted to pass rather than shoot after finding himself in the centre of the Brig box.
Josh Earl looked dangerous at times when going forward, making the sort of progressive runs that hark back to his formative years as a left winger.
In the centre, most of the play came through Ben Pearson, who we can sometimes rely upon a bit too much. The midfield enforcer had an excellent game and was often found in space ready to move the ball forward.
But the plaudits aught to go to Billy Bodin. The two-footed winger looked superb as he often tricked his way past defenders and into dangerous positions. Not only did he come tantalizingly close himself, but he also put the ball on a plate for Stockley twice. Unfortunately, Brig’s keeper was in inspired form, making a series of impressive saves.
Other than the creative impetus of Bodin, there was little action in the second half. Ginnelly looked lively on the left, while Browne came close on occassion, but perhaps didn’t do an awful lot. Stockley found some deadly positions while Gallagher came close with a vintage freekick.
But in the end, Preston would have to settle with just the two goal cushion, as Bamber Bridge defended well and held their own in a game of fairly high intensity.
While this was only a pre-season tester, I must admit that a number of players showed promise. But, the ‘Preston Updates MOTM’ goes to Moult for the first half and Bodin for the second.
Onto Cork next, where we will have more coverage of our second pre-season friendly.