League 1 report: Some would say that Preston North End are best watched on Twitter. Others would say winning ugly is an under-rated skill in football.
Certainly defensive organisation, terrific workrate, long balls and set-piece skills are working wonderfully well for Preston at the moment. This was their seventh 1-0 win of the season which suggests their approach may yet be more successful than the more eye-catching playing styles of Swindon and Bristol City.
Sadly dogged efficiency and one high-class piece of finishing was anough to beat a slightly-improved, yet still out-of-sorts (and wounded by injury) Peterborough United side. Preston deserved their victory as much for their outstanding defending in the final 20 minutes as for Jermaine Beckford’s clever finish on the stroke of half-time as Posh fell asleep at a throw-in.
Posh wobbled at times, but stayed in touch thus enabling them to pile some pressure on the visiting goal in the final 20 minutes when Kgosi Nthle and Aaron Mclean were both denied an equaliser by committed defenders throwing themselves in the way of the ball. It was a telling contrast to the efforts of the Posh centre-backs as Beckford danced his way into the penalty area unmolested before chipping over the onrushing Ben Alnwick.
Posh have been so poor at times in recent games that this 90 minutes did represent something of an improvement, although manager Darren Ferguson’s optimism flies in the face of some pretty dismal facts. Posh have now lost four League One home matches in a row and taken just 14 points from a possible 33 at the ABAX Stadium/London Road.
This is always a tricky fixture for Ferguson who faced the possibility of abuse from both sets of fans if the result went Preston’s way. Supporters in all areas of the ground today (December 20) blame Ferguson for leaving their team languising at League One level.
Preston appear in far better shape to put that right. One always sensed they carried the greater goal threat as long as aging centre forward Kevin Davies didn’t commit too many fouls and they most definitely possessed the stronger defence. Only a weak Paul Huntington back header forced Preston ‘keeper Thorsten Stuckmann into serious action and he raced speedily and successfully off his line to smother Mclean’s shot seven minutes after the re-start.
Paul Gallagher struck the underside of the crossbar after just nine minutes of the first half after Davies had muscled Jack Payne off the ball. Huntington, a free-scoring centre-back, headed a corner over the bar from just eight yards out, as Posh looked likely to reach half-time on level terms until Beckford struck.
The timing of the goal was unfortunate for Posh fans as they’d spent the previous 90 seconds baiting the goalscorer for an unnecessary and sly little shove on Ntlhe that sent the Posh full-back sliding into the gravel in front of the London Road End.
Beckford was rightly cautioned for that indiscretion, but he was still silly enough to jump into a challenge on Michael Bostwick soon after the re-start and must have feared the worst when referee Darren Sheldrake - another official who appeared to have removed his spine before kick-off - awarded a free-kick. To be fair to the Preston striker it looked like a strong, yet fair, tackle, but as the referee had seen it as a foul his failure to flourish a second yellow card came as a surprise, although the visitors defend so well Posh could not have guaranteed scoring against 10 men.
Posh barely carried a threat in the first-half once Erhun Oztumer had seen a third-minute free-kick scrambled behind for a corner and a 22nd minute shot drift just wide, but they did rally towards the end of the game, once Nathanaiel Mendez-Laing had replaced the toiling Jermaine Anderson.
They didn’t cause Stuckmann too much concern though once Mclean and swept a superb cross from Craig Mackail-Smith just wide of a post 20 minutes from time. It was the only time the ‘Mac Attack’ combined to any great effect, although they surely will not face this stern a test again in their time together.
Harry Beautyman’s terrific long ball had sent Mackail-Smith away and the recent signing from Welling United can be pleased with his efforts, as can Oztumer. Others should reflect on some awful crossing and shooting, mostly from the full-back positions where a lack of composure and quality was obvious.
Posh ‘keeper Ben Alwnick beat Beckford in a late one-one-one situation which was just as a two-goal margin of victory would have flattered Preston. One goal will often be enough to beat this Posh side though until they can find a consistent creative spark.
Joe Newell, the Posh player of the month for November, missed this game through suspension, but it’s Marcus Maddison’s absence that is hurting the most. If Ferguson can get Maddison and Jon Taylor playing in the same side as Oztumer and Beautyman, Posh could yet have a big interest in the race for the play-offs.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Bostwick, Gaby Zakuani (sub Luke James, 87 mins), Christian Burgess, Kgosi Ntlhe, Jack Payne, Harry Beautyman, Jermaine Anderson (sub Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, 71 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Aaron Mclean, Craig Mackail-Smith, Unused substitutes: Joe Day, Conor Washington, Kyle Vassell,Ricardo Santos, Michael Smith.
Player ratings: New conscripts did well in the midfield battle
Preston: Thorsten Stuckmann, Scott Laird, Scott Wiseman, Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington, Neil Kilkenny, John Welsh, Chris Humphrey (sub Andrew Little, 87 mins), Paul Gallagher (sub, Alan Browne, 62 mins), Jermaine Beckford (sub Jack King, 87 mins), Kevin Davies. Unused substitutes: Jamie Jones, Calum Woods, Kyel Reid, ,Josh Brownhill.
Goals: Preston - Beckford (45 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Mclean (persistent fouling), Bostwick (foul).
Preston - Beckford (foul), Andrew Little (foul).
Referee: Darren Sheldrake.
Attendance: 6,803 (475 Preston).