Hull City suffered another miserable away day at Deepdale as Paul Gallagher's second half goal helped Preston to a 1-0 win.
This was my first visit to Deepdale. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to avoid it previously. It’s a nice enough stadium. It’s not remarkable. It looks like four Subbuteo stands with K’NEX running along the top and in the corners. If anyone out there fancies making grounds out of matchsticks – this is the one to start with. Making stuff out of match sticks has always seemed like a tedious hobby but I’ll tell you what, it damn sure beats watching Hull City away at the moment!
Ahmed Elmohamady – Harry Maguire – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Robert Snodgrass – Jake Livermore – David Meyler – Shaun Maloney
Chuba Akpom – Sam Clucas
There were three changes from the Boxing Day mauling of Burnley. All predicated by concerns over the fitness of the players with the games just forty-eight hours apart. Whatever the reasons, it would be silly to blame the team selection for the horrors of the next ninety minutes. Players left out were present in the previous away-day horror shows at Leeds and Rotherham. There aren’t eleven players failing City at the moment but a squad full.
The only mystery in the first half was how on earth City got to the break with the score reading nil-nil. Preston had four excellent chances and the fact they squandered them probably goes some way to explaining their lowly league position. Adam Reach hit the first one over from ten yards after Will Keane’s shot deflected straight to him. Keane then ran off Davies who recovered his position and Keane laid off to Garner whose shot deflected off Davies and wide. David Meyler then gifted Garner the best chance of the lot dribbling along his own goal line towards McGregor and then, for some unexplainable reason, leaving the ball to Keane to cut back for Garner to shoot wide. Inspired by this generosity, Shaun Maloney then played in Keane who took on Davies in the area but pulled his shot wide.
In amongst those gilt edged chances, McGregor punched away a speculative effort from Garner and collected Reach’s shot on the rebound. In the attacking thirds – it was one way traffic. Preston aren’t a great side, the league table doesn’t lie in that regard, but they are a young and vibrant team who work hard and that was enough to unsettle the City side who failed to cope with their pressing game. There was a sense of entitlement on display. We expected them to be a pushover and when they weren’t – we had no answer. I’ve seen that complacency several times this season, most disappointingly at Charlton and Rotherham.
Livermore apart, every outfield player was awful but Meyler and Andy Robertson were outstandingly awful and Akpom showed he has all the fight and aggression of a Strictly Come Dancing competitor. I’d never accuse Harry Maguire of lacking desire but he still has a naivety about his game. He was easy to run off and left Davies a lonely figure in defence. Clucas busied himself but had no effect on the game. Maloney was poor for his second consecutive start. Elmo was as woeful as he’s been for most of the season.
For five minutes before the break the game was played to an eerie silence. Their fans were just quiet. Ours, previously boisterous, were utterly dumbfounded.
Half Time: Preston North End 0 Hull City 0
For once, Steve Bruce made a change at half time. Meyler was pulled for Huddlestone. The biggest issue I had with the change was that it left us playing the same system we’d started with when their three in midfield were swarming around us and Keane and Reach, playing wide of Garner, were able to move between the lines with consummate ease. We should definitely have pulled Maloney too and matched up three on three in midfield.
The change did produce a bit of a response from The Tigers and Huddlestone showed some urgency we’ve not seen from him for a while. He even chased down a back pass at one point. A Huddlestone volley was pushed around the post early in the half and Maloney slid Akpom through after good work by Clucas but although he stuck the ball in the net, he’d been flagged offside much earlier. Akpom made way for Hernandez on 63 minutes – at least half an hour after the City fans started calling for him to come on – but the tide was turning Preston’s way again. The breakthrough came minutes later when Huddlestone clumsily committed a foul on the right edge of the box. Daniel Johnson, who’d given some of ours a run for their money in the “biggest stinker” stakes in the first half slid the ball across for an unmarked Paul Gallagher to shoot home [1-0]. It was such a simple set piece, well worked from their point of view, abysmal from ours.
Bruce chucked on Diame for Maloney and he set up a chance that Hernandez wasted by not even connecting with the ball and later laid off for Hernandez to shoot low from eighteen yards but Pickford saved comfortably. The biggest act of drama for the visitors came in stoppage time and even that might have been irrelevant had Harry Maguire not nutted a goal-bound header off the line after McGregor decided he felt left out and punched poorly. City won a corner on the left with second remaining. Robertson took it, for lord knows what reason, and delivered well. It fell to Snodgrass who scuffed a shot and Hernandez back heeled it goal-ward only for a defender to smash it off the line. Davies, who was on the line himself, was adamant that it had crossed and the referee blew for time immediately and found himself surrounded by angry City players. Robertson received a post-game booking for his trouble.
Full time: Preston North End 1 Hull City 0
I make the Burnley game and the second half against Reading our only good performances in the last eight games. Three of those have been atrocious and another two really, really poor. This team borders on being schizophrenic. How can we dispatch promotion contenders with ease sandwiched between horrendous losses at possible relegation fodder? There is certainly an element of the squad whose attitude seems poisonous consistently but there are many, many more who do not perform to their potential week in and week out. It’s getting to the stage where I think that either the players aren’t as good as their reputation suggests or the manager is incapable of getting the best out of them. With every performance, I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s the latter.
I’m not suggesting Bruce should go because on the whole, I’m still leaning towards happy with our lot. But questions have to be asked because we’ve been on a downward trend for the better part of two years and the recent away defeats have been the worst performances of Bruce’s reign. There is currently a lack of momentum that shows no real sign of being reversed. Something has to change and it has to change quickly if the ambition of everyone at the club is to win promotion. The manager has to demonstrate that he can get the best out of these players and address the issues in the squad with whatever his January budget is or we’ll have to find someone else who can. Our away form has been distinctly average for the first half of the season and, looking at the fixtures, the big tests are still to come.
I like to try and find some positives doing these things and I’ve got two. The first is that we are still in the top four of the Championship. The top six was what I said I’d be happy with after that tumultuous summer. The second is Jake Livermore. He gave everything again today when he may as well have played by himself. And more importantly, it was he who was dragging players away from the referee at the end and trying to ensure his mates kept themselves out of trouble. The FA might still be sending a charge sheet our way but such a calm head in trying circumstances was admirable.
We’re away next. On the telly. Three points guaranteed.