Things are going very well for Preston North End at the moment. We’re in the Northern Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and just one two-legged tie away from the final in Wembley Stadium. And at the beginning of today, we were 4th in the League One table, with just one point between us and the top, and a considerably more substantial gap between us and 5th place. If only Liverpool fans could be so pleased at the moment.
Seeing as it’s the Christmas holidays, I decided to do what I have never done before, and go to a PNE away game. This one happened to be against Crewe Alexandra, who are in the relegation zone; I hoped that this would make a good result more likely, but then, you often can’t trust PNE against teams at the bottom of the table.
Taking the coach instead of the train proved a mistake. Along the M6, we ran into congestion, which was so bad it made it doubtful that we would even arrive in time for the kickoff. The coach ended up taking some side roads, which didn’t seem to be much quicker – and as well as that, the heating was on and it was sweltering. As it was, we got into the stadium pretty much dead on kickoff.
Crewe Alexandra’s stadium is not quite as big as Deepdale; the stands behind each goal only have a few rows’ worth of space. We, the away fans, were crowded in a relatively narrow and sheltered stand, on the opposite side from the largest one where most of the home fans were sitting. I made it to my seat just in time to find a flag passing over my head – and once that had passed on, I found I couldn’t really sit down, as nobody around me was. So I spent the whole match standing, slightly squashed, and trying to make out the words of the various songs everyone around me was singing.
For much of the first half, both teams cancelled each other out almost perfectly, with no serious chances on goal. In the latter stages of the half, PNE were becoming the stronger side, with two long shots that were caught by the keeper, and one close-range header that went over the bar.
It was nil-nil at the start of the second half, and there was every reason to believe it wouldn’t stay that way. PNE were clearly dominant at this point, with the ball spending very little time in their half; there were a couple of shots that just went wide, and a couple of moments where a player was one-on-one with the Crewe keeper who still managed to make a save.
And then, quite suddenly, Crewe got away with the ball and in a couple of rapid manouvres, fired it into the back of our net. Rather undeservedly, for they had barely had a look-in on our goal for the whole half, Crewe were ahead. The home fans, who up until now had been extremely quiet (even their announcer wasn’t very lively), went wild.
Fortunately, we only had to wait a few minutes before a good cross gave the ball to our forward Jermaine Beckford, who immediately scored, setting off a good amount of chanting from our fans toward the nearest Crewe stand. PNE continued to push for the rest of the match, with a few good attempts, and the fans getting very angry at one point for a perceived handball in the penalty area – but the game ended 1-1. Still, it was better than losing, and we’re currently third in the table.
And on the way home, we encountered roadworks and more congestion, convincing me to definitely take the train to my next away game.