The 2014/15 football season has had a reasonably positive start so far. I’m getting average rankings on Fantasy Football. Liverpool have two wins out of three. Manchester United are still looking miserable (yes, I do consider that a good thing). And Preston North End are currently unbeaten in the league. I was disappointed by our draws, however; we aren’t going to contend for the top spots with nothing but one-pointers. And we may be out of the League Cup courtesy of Middlesbrough, but last night we had another cup tournament to think about: the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
People don’t tend to take this tournament very seriously, and indeed a cup tournament where only teams on two league levels can take part does seem like quite a strange tournament to have. But when Preston got relegated to League One, I actually saw it as a positive (though not necessarily one that made up for the obvious negatives) that we would be in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy: it meant some extra football, and unlike the FA Cup and League Cup, Preston actually had a chance of winning this one.
Of course, that hasn’t yet happened, but I went along to see if Preston could take a step towards making it happen this season, in the first round tie against Shrewsbury Town. There was reason for optimism, as Shrewsbury are a league below us – but also some nervousness, given that they had just put Leicester out of the League Cup.
For this low-key match, most of the first-team players didn’t start, and not all the stands at Deepdale were opened; attendance was around 4,000, and when the game kicked off, you could definitely hear the difference – it felt like a whisper compared to the usual volume. Throughout the first half, Preston were easily the better side, having almost all the attempts on goal – but most of those attempts were lacking in real ferocity. Eventually, with neither team being aggressive enough and Preston giving away possession too easily, the crowd grew restless; some people near me actually cheered when the referee pulled out his vanishing spray for a couple of free kicks, calling it the most exciting part of the match.
Luckily, we finally had a reason to cheer in the second half, as Calum Woods ran the ball down the right side of the area and crossed it in front of the goal just before it could go out, allowing Jordan Hugill to fire it in.
At that point, however, Shrewsbury started getting more shots in, and it looked very much like we were going to do what we’ve done before and end up with a draw we really didn’t need to concede. However, with a bit of luck and some good work by our keeper, the ball stayed out of Preston’s net. Indeed, it really should have been 2-0 in stoppage time as Alan Browne failed to score in front of what was practically an open goal.
But a win’s a win in a cup tournament, even if it’s only by one goal.