In last season’s successful campaign, it took North End 26 games of the Championship season to taste their sixth defeat of the season. In contrast to that, PNE’s third league defeat in a row has seen them suffer their sixth defeat of the season after just nine games this time around, with the opening day victory against QPR seeming so long ago now.
Alex Neil decided to go with a back five/three for this one, despite admitting afterwards that it is not his preferred formation but one which he believed could stop Sheffield United in attack as PNE looked to stop conceding as many goals as they have in recent times.
Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell came in for the out of form Declan Rudd, whilst Andrew Hughes, Paul Huntington, Paul Gallagher and Ryan Ledson made up the other four changes, the latter coming back from suspension.
Immediately it became obvious that Preston were looking to be solid at the back, as they sat very deep for the first half which saw a different approach to the usual aggressive pressing, especially from midfield.
Sheffield United were dominant and were getting through down the flanks too easily, North End struggled to create much going forward in the first half and were hit with a real blow when Tom Clarke allowed Billy Sharp to get in front and put the ball into an almost empty net with nine minutes to go.
In the second-half, Chris Basham scored a goal after just six minutes, his header meant that it looked like North End were heading for yet another defeat in what was another poor performance away from home.
With 20 minutes to go manager Alex Neil brought on Daniel Johnson, who scored in Preston’s last home game at Reading along with Brandon Barker, who has impressed every time he has played thus far in a North End shirt.
At this point Sheffield United had gone much more defensive with Billy Sharp coming off for the hosts, allowing Preston’s star-man Callum Robinson to score with 10 minutes to go before Daniel Johnson’s deflected effort just three minutes later looked to have sealed an unlikely but important point on the road for Preston.
Despite this, Preston’s poor defensive performances as of late continued in this one, after already conceding a poor opener, they failed to hang on to the point and conceded a third goal in one game for the third time this season when a simple pass and go down the left hand side meant that United were in behind, resulting in a simple finish for David McGoldrick.
Reaction from Alex Neil
“I think with the way the lads played in the second half after going two goals down, they merited something from the game but we need to start showing that kind of play consistently as quickly as possible.”
If you look at the goals we are conceding, it’s not like teams are having to work particularly hard. We are not defending our box well enough. At 2-2 I thought we were the better side but credit to Sheffield United, they battled back and got the winning goal.”
“We set up to contain them which we did but when we get punctured and they score, we’ve actually got a back five in place and they’d managed to slide it through all of them which is really disappointing. ”
“As I said to the lads afterwards, they’re the ones who dug themselves out of the mess at 2-0 and we’re more than capable of doing that but what we need to do is find consistency and stop conceding sloppy goals and those goals are killing us at the moment.”
An important fortnight for the Lilywhites
The next couple of weeks will be vital for Preston as they look to go into the next international break on a high and off the bottom of the table. It starts on Tuesday night when they face Middlesbrough at Deepdale in the Carabao Cup, with Ben Pearson back from suspension and Lukas Nmecha, who missed the Sheffield United game with a knee injury hoping to be back in contention, North End need to get back to winning ways.
Next four fixtures:
Middlesbrough (H) (Carabao Cup)
West Brom (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Picture Credit: Preston North End