Preston continued their fine start to the campaign with a straightforward victory at home to a fancied Brentford side.
Seani Maguire opened the scoring a mere four minutes into the game with an awkward finish after an early onslaught of PNE pressure.
And Tom Barkhuizen doubled Preston’s lead 25 minutes into the second half after a smart exchange between the two fullbacks resulted in a ball across the goal which Barkhuizen steered home.
A game with little in the way of clear cut chances, but plenty to discuss nonetheless.
Here are our five talking points:
Solid if not spectacular.
Sometimes you’ve just got to do the basics well.
Defend your box, dictate the play in the middle and take your chances when they come.
And that’s just what Preston did.
We had just two shots on target all game and could muster up only six chances, yet we still scored twice, becoming the Championship’s joint top goalscorers, as the Bees lacked sting.
We also defended our box extremely well.
We won 58% of the game’s duels while also winning 22 aerials – 10 more than Brentford.
We made 8 more interceptions than the Bees and had a tackle success rate of 83%.
This wasn’t the best performance you’ll ever see from Preston, but it was certainly an efficient one.
When our two big chances came, we gobbled them up. And even when the game became stretched, we looked assured at the back, largely thanks to the formidable bond shared between Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies.
And this leads me on nicely to my second talking point:
Signing of the summer?
Patrick Bauer has been nothing short of marvellous since making the switch to PR1 on a Bosman back in mid-June.
Signing Bauer from Charlton made perfect financial sense, but he also addressed some key defensive deficits that cost us dearly last season.
Bauer adds much needed height and strength to the backline. He won 80% of his duels on Saturday, including 4 out of 5 aerial battles.
The German also boasted a 100% tackle success rate while completing an impressive 8 accurate passes in the opposition’s half.
Bauer isn’t just a no thrills, no nonsense, traditional centre half, he’s what pundits these days like to call the “modern defender” – capable of completing his defensive duties while also being confident in playing out from the back.
And at the prime age of just 26, Bauer still as plenty to give in a North End shirt.
Alex Neil loves to keep us guessing.
At the mid-week press conference, we were told that both Tom Barkhuizen and Seani Maguire were highly unlikely to start against Brentford. Yet both not only featured on Saturday, but also bagged the two goals.
When the lineup was announced at 2pm, I had to do a quick double take – “Surely not?”, I inwardly exclaimed.
It’s got to the stage now with Alex Neil, that nothing should surprise us anymore. Wacky team lineups are the norm and while they’re working, I’m certainly not complaining
After all, Alex Neil is simply keeping the opposition guessing.
There is no set starting XI under Neil and by ruling players out through injury, only to start them a few days later, he is astutely putting the opposition at an immediate disadvantage.
Rafferty rules the left.
He’s not an orthodox left-back, but Joe Rafferty is staking his claim to the Andrew Hughes spot.
In Hughes’ absense, Rafferty has exceeded expectations, working hard and proving himself as a steady operator in the Championship.
Hughes will undoubtedly come straight back into the side when he’s fit, but Joe Rafferty must be given credit for the job he’s done on the left.
The party must go on!
Even with Ben Pearson missing from the matchday XI, the party continued at Deepdale, as Ryan Ledson proved to be a more than adequate replacement.
An assist for Seani Maguire’s opening goal showed his ability to pick out a pass and although he found himself substituted in the 55th minute, he undoubtedly made a positive contribution to the game.
In fact, the midfielder created the most chances in the match, while also protecting the defence with his relentless tenacity alongside the engine that is Alan Browne.