Since the start of the new calendar year, things haven’t been quite so cheery for Preston North End. We had no wins in the league, even against teams in the relegation zone, against which we seem to have a real jinx. And our most realistic hopes of getting a trophy were dashed when we were defeated by Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Final. There was still a sizeable gap between us and the next-placed team, but the gap between us and the three higher teams was growing too, making it increasingly unlikely we will finish the season in an automatic promotion spot.
This week, however, we appeared to get out of our slump by beating Sheffield United in our fourth-round replay in the FA Cup – and for the next round, no less than Manchester United are coming to Deepdale! I’ve watched Liverpool and Chelsea play PNE at home in the FA Cup, and Tottenham in the League Cup, so I’m eager to see this one. And in order to get priority based on the money-making deal offered by the club, I bought tickets to today’s match against Coventry City. So, could Preston start winning in the league again?
For about twenty minutes, the match was downright boring. Neither side had any real chances, though Coventry were moving the ball towards our box rather more frequently. When the deadlock was broken in the 21st minute, it happened very suddenly: the ball was abruptly crossed into the Coventry box, and our forward Kevin Davies headed it in! From where I was sitting in the stands, and from the way the players were crowded in the box, I couldn’t really see the goal: it was only when everyone cheered that I realised the ball had actually gone in.
At that point, PNE did pick up some momentum; before the first half was finished, we had made two more good attempts that the Coventry keeper just managed to put over the crossbar. When the second half began, we were still the better-looking side – but as the minutes passed, we faded somewhat, and Coventry were making us sweat. At one point, they slipped the ball right in front of our goal, only to put it well over the crossbar – and they forced a few saves from our keeper too.
But ultimately, neither team played terribly well in the second half, and it became a matter of wearily waiting for the match to be over. Joe Garner, one of our best goalscorers at the moment, did get to make a return to Deepdale after being off injured for a few months, and had some moments of excellent footwork – but he still couldn’t make the game exciting. It was with no little relief that the final whistle blew, Preston having won 1-0.
I certainly won’t complain about the result, but I very much hope that things will be more fast-paced against Manchester United. And who knows, we might even beat them!