Improved Clarets force derby stalemate
We started the game brightly, with the first chance falling to John Spicer. Gifton Noel-Williams nodded the ball down to Spicer, who blazed his shot over the bar. Preston’s best early chance came from a Graham Alexander cross, but Danny Dichio’s header was fired straight at Danny Coyne.
Both sides struggled to create clear goalscoring opportunities, with most of the action being played in midfield. Micah Hyde was influential once again in midfield, winning the ball on countless occasions and running the game at times in the heart of midfield. Chances were few and far between and the next opportunity fell to Preston when Dichio found David Nugent, who looked as though he would be through on goal, but McGreal made a fantastic interception on the edge of the area and cleared the ball away to safety.
McGreal was having an excellent game and was beginning to look like the player we saw last season, as he vastly improved on Saturday’s performance. We were looking far more resilient at the back.
Dichio was involved again shortly afterwards volleying the ball towards the Burnley goal but his effort failed to cause Danny Coyne any problems and he saved comfortably. The Clarets managed another effort before the break with Jon Harley putting a pinpoint cross in from the left, but Noel-Williams could only head over the bar, but it was no more than a half-chance.
So, it was goalless at half time and it was a solid first half performance from Burnley as they defended excellently and competed well in midfield and certainly deserved to be level at the interval. You feared that Preston would be more of a threat in the second half and up the tempo, but it wasn’t to be and the second half followed a similar pattern to the first.
Early in the second half, Coyne was forced into action to save from a header from a Preston corner. Preston weren’t troubling us and these were the only efforts on goal they could produce. Burnley were looking dangerous at times on the break and keen to hit Preston on the counter attack. Burnley hit Preston on the break and Spicer found James O’Connor who unleashed a shot from 25 yards out, forcing Carlo Nash to make a good save low to his left.
On the hour Burnley made a substitution with Graham Branch coming on to replace Wade Elliott. Elliott had been ineffective and looked as though he wasn’t fully match fit. John Spicer switched onto the right of midfield with Branch playing down the left and both looked lively.
After a free kick was given away for a foul on Gifton, the Clarets produced an intelligent set piece from the training ground that came so close to paying off. Jon Harley ran up to take the kick and Micah Hyde stood in the way, so Harley pushed him. Ironic cheers came from the Preston fans, but this was clearly rehearsed, as Harley ran through unmarked and the ball was tapped to Hyde, who played a through ball to Harley who hit a right-footed shot wide from the edge of the six yard box. It seemed easier for him to hit it with his left and it was somewhat bemusing for him to strike it with his right. It was the best chance of the match, but Harley put in an otherwise superb performance, his crossing and defending was excellent once again.
Burnley looked the more likely to score and got the ball to Akinbiyi on the break on more than one occasion, but he didn’t look quite as sharp as he had in previous games. Had he been then we could maybe have nicked a goal. Preston’s only other chance came when Agyemang headed wide from a cross. We were on top in the second half and Preston resorted to ridiculous penalty appeals in a bid to sneak the match, all ignored by referee Gallagher.
The game finished goalless, probably a fair result in the end and the players left to applause from the Clarets faithful. I was pleased that we had managed to keep a clean sheet. The defending was greatly improved from the Cardiff game, we didn’t allow their forwards as much space and we didn’t give many free headers away tonight.
It’s hard to pick a man of the match – McGreal was superb at the back and Keith Lowe was also very solid and certainly looks worth holding onto for longer than the initial one month loan. John Spicer looked dangerous and looks like he will do well at this level. Jon Harley was outstanding once more, a fantastic signing by Steve Cotterill and one of the best left backs at this level. My vote goes to Micah Hyde though, but it is a very close call. He battled well and seemed to win every ball he went for in midfield. His importance to the team is obvious from his recent displays.
It was a much improved team performance from the Clarets tonight, with most of the players having excellent games. Preston are fancied by many to challenge for the play-offs this season and they rarely troubled us. I don’t think that Preston will be quite good enough for a top-six finish, although I did think that at one stage last season too. It was a good point, and a second clean sheet and perhaps something for us to build on. With more performances like that we should be able to pull away from the lower reaches of the league. Let’s hope we can get another clean sheet on Saturday and hopefully we can leave Plymouth with our first away win of the season.