Preston got off to a great start under new boss Alex Neil as they defeated Sheffield Wednesday by one goal to nil.
A Daniel Johnson penalty in the second period was enough to give the Whites all three points on the opening game of the season in a fiercely contested game at Deepdale.
The first 45 offered very little in terms of goalmouth action but it was a half which certainly would have pleased Alex Neil, with his side being first and second to pretty much every ball to the point where the sold-out Kop became very restless.
The game got off to a quick start as you may expect from the opening game of the season. Preston applied high amounts of pressure on the Wednesday players leading to a mistake in the Owls’ midfield which new signing Seani Maguire almost capitalised upon.
The first real moment of controversy came 20 minutes into the game when Ben Pearson, victim of 16 yellow cards last season, collected his obligatory booking despite the tackle looking pretty much perfect. It’s safe to say the Deepdale crowd weren’t best pleased with that decision.
Fernando Forestieri, Deepdale’s pantomime villain for the day, took time to get up off the floor to collect a yellow card of his own, this time much to the delight of Deepdale.
The only real chance of the first half fell to Maguire after a great ball through by Robinson sent the striker on his way but Kieren Westwood had his near post covered to deny the former Cork striker his first competitive goal for the Whites.
Preston came straight out the blocks in the second half, showing a lot more attacking intent than showed in the first period. Unsurprisingly Maguire was involved yet again as his ability to hold the ball up allowed Cunningham to overlap and whip in a great ball towards Callum Robinson. Robinson, who has been subject of a bid from Derby in the last 24 hours, managed to get on the end of it but his header was aimed straight at Westwood. Either side and it’s a goal.
The next attack yet again saw Maguire involved as he took on left-back Pudil with ease before firing the ball across the face of goal. ‘Keeper Westwood was first to it but he could only parry the ball to the edge of the six-yard box where, fortunately for him, a Wednesday defender diverted the ball away.
The chances just kept coming for North End as Robinson and Maguire came close in quick succession before a Wednesday defender almost deflected the ball into the back of his own net in what wouldn’t be out of place in Sky 1’s Football’s Funniest Moments.
For large periods of the game Sheffield Wednesday were simply second best but they did come close on occasion. Firstly, a Wednesday defender sent the ball forward in what looked like an easy take for Maxwell but the flying Forestieri was a matter of inches from finding the net as he got his head on the ball before the Welsh goalkeeper could claim. Then substitute Ross Wallace did his best to find the net on his return to Deepdale but the Scotsman’s fierce effort flew just over the bar.
North End then came closest of all on 75 minutes when the Wednesday crossbar was left rattling. A superb corner from substitute Paul Gallagher found the head of Tommy Spurr and his brilliant header beat Westwood but unfortunately not the crossbar.
Jordan Hugill, who also has also been subject of a rejected bid this week, came off the bench to make a significant impact. His sheer persistence to power through the Wednesday defence caused a lot of problems and forced Tom Lees to take action by wiping him out giving the referee no option other than to point to the spot. Preston’s number 11 Daniel Johnson stepped up to take the spot kick and disposed of it expertly to give the Whites a deserved lead.
The home side then thought they had doubled the lead when Jordan Hugill flicked the ball over Westwood and followed it up to put the ball in the back of the net. However, the referee had taken action and awarded a free-kick amidst the action in what looked like a decision given for handball.
The final ten minutes saw Wednesday surge forward in attempt to find an equaliser but overall the Preston backline dealt well with it and held the away side off to get the season off to a great start.
Man of The Match
There were outstanding individual performances all over the pitch this afternoon but if I had to pick one I think I’d go for goalscorer Daniel Johnson.
The midfielder looks to have come into his own under Alex Neil, looking much more confident with the ball at his feet something which we rarely saw last season under Grayson.