Due to financial considerations, I haven’t been to see Preston North End play for a while. However, a ticket unexpectedly became available to see them play Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup, so I took the opportunity. Mist was hanging over the stadium lights for the 5:30 kickoff, but it wasn’t too cold, and as always for cup matches against top Premier League teams, the stadium was packed. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could be seen on the other side of the pitch, spending most of the match wrapped up warm in a slate-grey coat.
I was obviously hoping for PNE to put on a good show, but few could have predicted that we would be ahead in the seventh minute! Aiden McGeady did a very cool spin to avoid being tackled by an Arsenal player and brought the ball into the box; he then went down, and before I was certain what had happened, Callum Robinson pounced on the ball and scored!
From then on, PNE were easily the better side for the rest of the first half. Their passing, defending and interception were all superb, and they had many more serious attempts on goal. At one point, they forced a save from the Arsenal keeper; later, the ball looked just about to roll into the net when a defender stopped it just in time – and there were quite a few promising crosses, and shots from outside the box, in the meantime. PNE actually did score again from a corner, but it was disallowed for a foul on the keeper. Arsenal, on the other hand, looked uncertain, frequently giving the ball away cheaply and troubling PNE keeper Maxwell infrequently.
Unfortunately, Arsenal appeared to have been drinking their Lucozade over the half-time break. Less than a minute had gone by before Aaron Ramsey had fired the ball into the PNE goal and put them level. In the minutes that followed, Arsenal looked fast and dangerous, with the PNE players struggling to keep up. Real chances on goal were more limited in the second half, and as PNE started keeping pace better, it looked as though they might hang on and take it to a replay. But right before the end of normal time, Oliver Giroud got onto a clever pass and beat the keeper at close range. PNE made a valiant effort to equalise in the four minutes of added time, but to no avail.
And so, we lost to Premier League opposition once again. But of all the matches I’ve seen of that kind, it was the closest we’ve come to winning. Maybe next time…