The weekend of a new football season – where does the time go? And after four seasons away, Preston North End were back in the Championship, one tier below the Premier League!
The first season after you get promoted, perhaps no match can be called easy. But PNE’s opening fixture was likely to be particularly tough: Middlesbrough had, after all, been Championship playoff finalists in the previous season. This would hopefully give some idea of how PNE could be expected to perform, back at this level.
It was clear as my dad and I got in that Deepdale had enjoyed a high turnout for the game – over 15,000. Given the 12pm kickoff time, plenty of people had picked up a pie, though we took the cheaper option and brought packed lunches. To make sure that the fans were suitably geared up, a short video was played to remind them of last season’s playoff final victory – and, just before the players came out, the Game of Thrones theme music, which will make anything epic.
Out came the team, with new signings mixed in with the veterans – unfortunately Jermaine Beckford wasn’t playing due to injury. And away we went!
In the first half, PNE were undoubtedly bringing the ball forward more, but not quite enough to beat the Middlesbrough defence. When a corner brought the ball right in front of the net, Bailey Wright almost got his head to it, but missed. Middlesbrough didn’t carry out so many attacks, but when they did, they looked dangerous. There was a shot in front of goal that only just went wide; later, another player looked like he was through until he was finally stopped just outside the box.
When the PNE captain Tom Clarke ran into a nasty collision just in front of our stand, there was a noise that sounded ominously like a crack – but luckily, Clarke was soon back on his feet, with a yellow card. For the rest of the half, PNE repeatedly crossed the ball towards or into the Middlesbrough box, but just couldn’t finish it off. Following one free kick, the ball was passed back and forth tantalisingly close to the goal before finally being lost.
In the second half, the teams were still dynamic in their play, but there wasn’t much in the way of concrete attacks. Middlesbrough had some good chances, one of which was only just cleared by the PNE defence. Around the middle of the half, a couple of players went down and the two teams gathered together angrily, looking right on the verge of really kicking off – fortunately, they were calmed down relatively swiftly. Urged on by their fans, PNE pushed hard in the later stages; Joe Garner attempted an overhead kick which went over the bar, and came agonisingly close to finishing a cross in injury time.
The final score was 0-0 – but it was a more entertaining game than that scoreline usually suggests, and a respectable result against opponents of that quality, though really PNE were the better side for much of the match. Having just been promoted, perhaps it would be unrealistic to expect really great things for PNE – but there’s no harm in hoping for the best. Let’s see what the rest of the season brings!