Ahead at half time, behind thanks to two goals in as many minutes, and level before the hour. A game full of incident which we could, and possibly should, have won brought us a point and our first sighting of the Red Crested Watmore in ten months. Another referee would have reduced PNE to ten men following the clattering of the aforementioned Watmore, and that could have made all the difference. Still, we didn’t get beat and had our league position not been so poor, we’d have come away thinking “canny.”
As it was Preston, where we avoided breaking Darwen's winless run record by winning 2-O under Mick McCarthy, we dared to dream it would happen again. In Lancaster for the first time in yonks, we filled the Spoons, run by Bishop lad Gary Carr, and then watched enviously as Spurs murdered Huddersfield on the Golden Lion's TV. The ride to Deepdale was fabulous, as the police escort took us through red lights, down the wrong side of the road, and past the static traffic. Exciting start.
Jones Browning O'Shea Matthews
M'cGeady Catts Ndong Honeyman Gooch
We kicked away from our near 3,000 fans in the Bill Shankly Kop, with Catts, Ndong and Honeyman filling the centre and McGeady and Gooch supporting Vaughan from the flanks. Four at the back, like the old days, and that seemed to suit the players, and further up the field the energy of Gooch and Honeyman gave more time to Catts and Ndong. We’d expected both Grayson and McGeady to get a fair bit of stick from the home crowd, but they remained mostly quiet – and while we were doing OK, we weren’t really doing a great deal to keep them quiet. Gooch did well to thread a great ball through to Honeyman, but his first touch was poor and allowed the home defence to clear their lines, and Gooch aimed a cross at Vaughan, only to see the sting taken out of it by a deflection and the keeper collect easily. After about fifteen or so, Preston resorted to a bit of route one – they’d probably been watching videos of our defensive nonsense from Ipswich – but O’Shea had his defence set up well and we dealt with whatever they threw in. This seemed to get on PNE’s nervers a bit, and they picked up a booking when Fisher hoofed the ball away after conceding a free kick. Honeyman was onto the end of it, but couldn’t get his volley on target. Some goal that would have been.
Vaughan had having his now customary battle with their big centre half, and it looked like we might pick up something, either directly or otherwise, from these encounters. Mebbe that’s what was keeping their crowd quiet, as well as O’Shea and Browning keeping former Sunderland target (aren’t they all?) Hugill under control.
Bearing in mind our form of late, we were just as happy to keep them out as we would have been to score, and were approaching the half hour sort of content, but wanting to work their keeper more, when we won a free kick on the right. In it went to Vaughan at the back, and he headed it back and down, with Gooch first to the ball and wrong-footing the home defence with a back-heel that McGeady would have been proud of –straight to Honeyman, who could hardly have missed. Thankfully he didn’t, blasting the ball home from the middle of the box. Gerrin, and my specs went flying for the first time of the day as the visiting fans had a bit of a party.
While the possession stats might show that PNE had more of the ball in the first half, we were much more efficient with it when it was ours, and prevented the home side from giving Steele any real trouble. We controlled the last ten or so of the half, and were more than happy to go in a goal to the good after the single added minute.
No changes for the second half, but Preston had obviously had a good talking to in the dressing room, and went on the offensive from the off. They had a chance early on, but over hit the pass across the edge of the box and we got it away. Ten minutes in, and things went distinctly barmy. We conceded a free out on our right, and they scored straight from it – no doubt it was a great goal, but Steele, and his manager, and Vaughan who sort of got in the keeper’s way, will be very disappointed to let them score from that position. Daft, very daft. We’d barely stopped grumbling about that (actually, most of us were still in mid-grumble) when Hugill hit one in off the bar. Awww, Haway Lads, that’s not on. Another typical Sunderland result looked very much on the cards – for about two minutes. We piled a bit of pressure on and McGeady won the ball near the box with a lovely sliding tackle, and when the option to slip the ball into the box to Vaughan might have tempted some, it didn’t tempt McGeady. He steadied himself and curled a low left-footer just inside the keeper’s right-hand post. Yet another beauty that showed what a game-changer he can be, and now good I am at catching flying specs. The 100-yard dash to celebrate at the Preston End was a bit special as well – probably worth a yellow card in the Prem, but in the Championship they don’t seem so bothered about that sort of daftness.
That was just before the hour, and Watmore soon made his comeback five minutes later, in place of Gooch, and was straight into the action. His first touch was to latch onto a ball from Honeyman over the right back, and those of us actually sitting down were straight out of our seats, but instead witnessing a run on goal, we saw a piece of refereeing that will feature heavily in video training of officials, under the heading “what not to do.”
Maxwell charged out of the box and not only cleaned out Watmore with a body-check, but clearly got at least one great big gloved (and thus highly visible) hand on the ball to put it out of play. Our first thought was for Watmore’s health, but it was immediately obvious that he was OK, but then things descended into farce. The ref awarded a throw in (to us, at least) as we looked on in disbelief and looked to the linesman to approach the ref and say, “don’t be daft.” An outfield player making that challenge would probably have been straight on his phone to ask for some rose petals to be strewn in the bath, but apparently keepers are immune. As our senior pros, Catts and O’Shea, attempted to explain what had happened, a few players had a sit down and a cuppa, the ref waved a yellow card at O’Shea (I initially thought it was at Steele, which would match the ref’s general level of competency), and Jones limped off. He’d probably hurt his neck shaking his head at the ref’s decision.
On came Oviedo, with Matthews moving across to fill Billy’s boots on the right, and he played his usual game of trying to get forward at every opportunity. With Vaughan continuing his physical game, he attempted to challenge for a ball dropping into the box, and looked to be both pulled and pushed by the two defenders he was competing with. I looked a penalty all day long, but not to the ref. This meant that there was never, ever going to be a pen when Watmore went down a bit too easily on the edge of the box, but we kept the pressure up, and Vaughan’s firm header flew a yard wide with the keeper well beaten. He was at it again soon after, when their defender had a Davey Corner moment and Dunc nicked the ball off him, and placed a low cross through the box to Catts, of all people, at the back post but he was quickly denied space and the shot was deflected for a corner.
One bundle of energy was replaced with another with six to go when Williams came on for Honeyman as Grayson got his subs right, and we kept the pressure on. It looked like we might get the win we probably deserved, but with Vaughan’s shot being blocked and Preston eventually working out how to sort of deal with Watmore (apart from the time when he went down in the box again and we might have had a penalty) by not trying to catch him, it just didn’t happen. Four extra minutes were announced, most of them for the time taken to understand what the ref was doing by not penalising their keeper, which yielded nothing by way of a goal.
2-2, and probably a game that a neutral would have enjoyed, and a much more solid display than Tuesday (which doesn’t take much) despite their first goal being a ridiculous one to concede. Much of our improved performance was down to the organisation provide by O’Shea and Catts - two captains, in effect. We showed great character to recover from the disappointment of slipping from a winning position to a losing one in the space of a few minutes. What we have to do, or rather the manager has to do, is to instil that mentality permanently in the players.
Man of the Match? Well, McGeady showed he can change things, and O’Shea managed to sort out the rearranged defence, but again Catts showed that there’s a lot more to him just geeing his teammates up. So, he can have it again.
Dare I say Keep the Faith?
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