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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 06/08/05, 3.00pm
Preston North End
The good, the bad and the ugly
By Chris Lawton

So, another season begins and, judging by Saturday's efforts, it is going to be a rollercoaster ride. For all the promise of attacking dynamic play, the game ultimately hinged on two alarming defensive errors during the first half. Much will be made of the referee's performance, particularly in the second half, but this should not detract from the fact that we simply were not good enough.

The Good

We scored, and a good goal at that. A subtle diverting run by Doyley allowed Young to deliver a sweeping cross and new boy Henderson powered home from six yards. As the ball hit the net, the crowd rose with a guttural roar that suggested the birth pains might not be quite so painful after all.

In the end, though, that was it. There was no more. We made a few half chances and were denied a penalty by the fastidious referee, but never again forced Nash into a decent save.

The Bad

First up, the players. Although no-one really played poorly, no-one excelled either. There were glimpses here and there, but no sustained dynamic play that you felt would turn the match in our favour. No-one actually took charge and put their foot on the ball and ran the show.

Although we scored early, weaknesses in our tactics had already been exposed and on scoring, we still piled forward. The lack of experience and control showed. Maybe the youthful enthusiasm and exuberance carried us too far forward?

Ashley Young and Ali Bangura stood out, however, for the wrong reasons. The later managed to get himself booked, and very nearly sent off, after repeatedly complaining to the referee; the former suffered from an over-reliance on two-footed, lunging tackles to win possession to join him in the book.

The team selection. Afterwards Aidy suggested that King and Henderson looked like two forwards who had not played together before. I would add that so did the entire defence. I can understand bringing in Carlisle, but I could not understand playing Foster in goal. On paper, the guy may be better than Chamberlain, but it was one change too many and not really necessary. Chamberlain is an excellent organiser of his troops and may well have prevented some of the shambolic defending of the first half.

The Ugly

I'll ignore the referee; after all, he ignored the rules of football for ninety minutes on Saturday. A clearer penalty you will not see: King prevented from jumping by having an opponent basically hug him around his waist.

The really ugly aspects are as follows:

  • Offside. We seem to be trying to play offside. Fine. But don't do it with a defence that has never played together before! On at least one occasion, a hand went up with two defenders behind the player in question. Secondly, this is an outdated tactic that the modernisation of the rules has, to some extent, circumvented.
  • Plan A appears to be to charge at the opposition and play the ball forward as quickly as possible. Trouble with that is there is no-one to pick up second phase ball and the opposition could counter all too quickly and easily, especially in the first half. Plan B appeared to be to tighten up the defence and stop supplying the forward line. Both plans worked very well - for Preston. Some refinement needed here.
  • The midfield. It was not clear to me during the first half if we were playing 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-2-4, or a dynamic variant of all three. In the second half, it was definitely more 4-4-2. The problem is that without Mahon (injured) or Gunnarsson (gone) to hold the ball in the middle, we were easily outplayed. It took until well into the last ten minutes before we strung together more than a couple of passes. There was simply no midfield.
  • Leadership. With so many new faces, it needs a strong character to bring the players together. Marlon King was not that character, and no-one else on the pitch could do it either. When Young started to lose the plot, no-one pulled him aside and calmed him down. When the defence was out of shape early on, no-one made a decision. There was simply no-one on the pitch prepared to drive the team forward, captain for the day or otherwise.
  • The manager. I am still unsure on the guy as a manager, but I am sure he needs to cut the spin. In the radio interview afterwards, he suggested that enthusiasm was a substitute for experience. This is a different line to earlier in the summer and sounded like someone trying to cover for the midfield weakness. He further suggested that Preston did not control the second half. From my view in the Rous, I would have to disagree: they barely got out of second gear. A touch of reality is needed from the manager.