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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 18/1/97
Preston North End 1(1)
Scorers: Bennett (17)
Watford 1(1)
Team: Miller 3, Bazeley 2, Gibbs 3, Palmer 3, Millen 3, Page 4, Slater 4, Connolly 2, White 4, Penrice 3, *Mooney 4*
Subs: Noel-Williams (for Penrice) 0, Easton, Chamberlain
Scorers: Mooney (45)
Wasted opportunity
Report by John Hamilton

As the final whistle beckoned, the bloke behind me remarked that a draw was probably a good result. Bollocks. Absolute bollocks. The fact is that we played more than half this match with one man more on the pitch and we couldn't make it count. This is quite clearly the difference between a promotion team and a bunch of also-rans. Admittedly they were one goal up at the time of the sending off, and they had a penalty, but we dominated this game for most of the second half, but never looked like winning.

First off, finding the ground was a breeze and the signposting for it should be noted by all football clubs. The ground itself is another matter, dominated by a brand new stand on the one side, flanked by 1930's cattle sheds on the other. The Preston faithful it seems are not interested in the Taylor report, preferring to populate the old stand behind one of the goals. And boy what a noise they made. Coordinated by a big bass drum, their large vocal support, was quite intimidating at times.

The game started briskly, with Preston pushing up quickly and gaining an early corner. This was pushed to the edge of the box, flicked to the outside of the area, then lobbed in, before being cleared to safety. This obviously had an effect on our defence, as ten minutes later Preston got another corner on the far side. This time the ball was played straight to the edge of the area, flicked back to the corner taker who had moved along the by-line, who then lobbed it in to the area for it to be headed in. Our defence were at sixes and sevens, the confusion caused as much by the first corner as the second. As a result of a good piece of tactical play, we were one-nil down already.

This didn't get us down though, and we got stuck in and pushed at their goal. Slater had a good run at their defence, but a weak shot was easily saved by Bobby Mimms. Then came a pivotal point in the match, a ball came into their area, and Devon chased it in, colliding with Mimms, who stayed down. It was a 50-50, but with keepers being so over-protected, it was clear Devon could be carded for it. He wasn't, the ref resorting to a lecture, and the Preston fans went mad. Mimms (the tosser) soon got up, and it became apparent he stayed down to get Dev sent off. Two minutes later Dev went for another 50-50, this time with one of their attackers, won the ball, and the ref blew up, this time yellow carding Dev. Again their player stayed down, hoping to get him sent off. From here on, everytime Dev got the ball, he got booed, and most importantly he was followed by two defenders.

This set the tone of the game, and after a couple of nasty challenges, the ref started producing cards left, right and centre. In another attack Penrice, working as hard as ever picked the ball up on the left wing, and was clattered by Reeves, who was booked and sent off for a second offense. All of a sudden the match turned in our favour. The ref went from zero to hero (but was still a tosser), and we pushed hard. Then we got a throw in near their bench, Penrice went to take it, and got assaulted by their management team who had to be restrained by the Police. They had cracked. Just before half time we got a throw in on the right side, the ball was scrambled across the goal, lobbed across to Mooney who headed powerfully passed Mims. With 45 minutes to go, we were all square, and a man up.

Preston came out in the second half fighting and it was soon difficult to see where our extra man was (I counted just to check), they weren't going to settle for a draw, and neither were we. We attacked strongly, Connolly revelling in the extra freedom given by Dev's extra chaperone, Slater pushing hard at their defense but lacking support (Rams where are you). Throughout all this Preston kept pushing forward, but ran out of ideas each time they approached our defense, marshalled superbly by the unflappable Robert Page, showing just why he's so highly rated. Preston rarely made it into the box, each time they did they fell over and looked for the penalty. The tactic worked of course, the ref applying the law of averages, and they were awarded a kick for nothing. Their player took a long run up, blasted it straight, and Miller who had started to dive to the right, saved with his legs.

Gifton came on for Penrice, but failed to do anything remotely dangerous, and we played out the last ten minutes pushing hard but getting nowhere. The star man of the match for me was Mooney, though. Lacking in talent he might be, but he works a lot harder than most, and I lost count of the times he raced down their right wing, chasing down one of their players, and making a good tackle, his goal was thoroughly deserved. Devon had a good match too, the opposition were frightened of him, he made a couple of good lay offs to Mooney, and was never afraid of getting stuck in (despite the yellow card).

So there you have it, another game gone because we couldn't score, all we need is that elusive striker, now where did I put Ross Jenkins phone number....