The big night had finally arrived. Preston North End were going to take on one of the Premier League’s most highly rated teams, for the first time since 1972. It was going to be a cracker.
Having gotten a ticket for the Coventry game, I was able to go and get my ticket on Wednesday. With the ticket office opening at 8am, I managed to arrive just before hand, anticipating something of a queue but nothing massive. This is where I was when I started:
It took an hour and a half to finally get to the ticket office, but it was worth it.
So on Monday night, my dad and I got to the stadium smoothly and took our seats. The match had been a sellout, and the atmosphere was very different from the Coventry game: every stand was packed, and there was real passion in the air, even more chanting than usual. We were in time to watch the draw for the FA Cup quarter finals on the big screen, and there was a cheer when we learned we’d be playing Arsenal at home if we won this one.
Then out came the teams, and it was clear that Man United manager Louis van Gaal wasn’t underestimating Preston. Wayne Rooney was starting as captain, and also out were such top players as Smalling, Di Maria and Falcao.
The first half saw some great football, but no clear chances for either team. It was very fast-paced, the ball constantly changing possession, so it was difficult to see which – if any – side was dominant. The United players were very agile, and also very physical: players were going down quite frequently. United seemed to get the ball forward a bit more, but our defenders were on top form – as opposed to Daley Blind, who once let the ball go between his legs and fell over trying to get after it. PNE had a few weak shots from Joe Garner and a free kick that ended up over the bar, while United had two free kicks that went wide and a few defended attempts that our keeper Stuckmann rescued easily. The football was so exciting that the first half went by very quickly for the most part, but by the end, I was wishing there would be a proper chance on goal.
In the second half, I didn’t have long to wait. PNE started stronger, creating a couple of good crosses – then suddenly, Scott Laird came down the left side and fired the ball into the net!
Everyone went ballistic, even Stuckmann on the other side of the pitch – I eagerly joined in chanting “WHO ARE YA?” at the away supporters.
And for a while, it looked like we might actually hold on, because PNE were playing about as well as I’ve ever seen them. They kept trying: a free kick was almost slipped in, and a header from Garner was saved. But Man United were trying too: Di Maria had a shot down the middle that was saved.
We dared to hope – but finally, after 18 minutes, the dream died, as United finally managed to slip through our defenders and Ander Herrera scored. There was a commotion in my stand shortly afterward: I couldn’t see properly, but I think somebody was cheering for the United goal.
The game continued at much the same pace as United continued to push: at one point, Stuckmann had to come right out of the goal nd kick the ball into the stands to stop a lone United attacker. But then he failed to hold onto another attempt, and Marouane Fellaini put it in. We were 2-1 down, and with the stamina of the United players starting to tell, it didn’t look good for PNE.
But we kept trying: Callum Robinson made a break down the middle but the United keeper saved it. The outcome was finally made certain when Rooney was brought down in the box and put away the resulting penalty without difficulty. PNE still came close with a couple of corners in stoppage time, but the final score was Preston North End 1, Manchester United 3.
It was, obviously, a disappointment – you can say you won’t mind the result, but when your team scores first, it puts you in a different mindset – but it was still one of the best matches I’ve been to. Seeing such famous players at Deepdale was a thrill on its own, and the atmosphere was something special. Plus PNE played really well, tried their little hearts out all the way, and definitely managed to make United sweat for a bit: the scoreline really doesn’t reflect the game. But now we can focus on the league, and with a little luck, returning to the Championship.