Normal service is resumed
It was better in every way although this was nothing like the 0-0 draws of a year ago (it is just a year today since our backs to the wall 0-0 at the Concrete Jungle) although this was once again an accomplished display at the back with John McGreal back to his imperious best.
Steve Cotterill made two changes from the side that had drawn with Cardiff. Young defender Keith Lowe came in for the injured Frank Sinclair, surely Frank should never have started against Cardiff, whilst John Spicer was preferred to Graham Branch on the left hand side of midfield. Both Lowe and Spicer were making their first starts in Claret & Blue.
Burnley defended the Bill Shankly Kop in the first half, the only area of the ground that generated any noise other than the pathetic lone drummer somewhere in Preston centre. It was as if all Preston’s fans had gone to sleep, and all their players had gone to Leeds.
There was plenty to get the large contingent of Clarets in good voice as we started much the brighter of the two sides and our positive approach play from midfield was catching out the home side time and again.
The nearest we came to taking the lead was when Spicer got on the end of a pass from Gifton Noel-Williams but his powerfully struck shot just missed the target. We weren’t seeing too much of Preston but in one attack they came close to taking the lead with what would have been nothing more than a fluke.
A speculative effort deflected off Michael Duff and for one horrible moment it looked to be heading for the top corner and it was some relief to see it hit the top of the netting. This led to the first in a series of corners but they came to nothing.
They tried hitting them long but there were to be no free headers this time, they tried the short corner routine and had just about as much success.
After this flurry it was back to the Clarets on top although there was one worrying moment when a ball over the top looked to have beaten the Burnley defence. We should have known better as last man McGreal produced an amazing bicycle kick clearance that brought one end of the ground to its feet as one.
Half time came at 0-0 and as the police went looking for fun with their over reactions in the concourse area, most Burnley fans were discussing the first half and were more than happy with it.
Danny Coyne had to be alert early in the second half, getting down well to save from a header but then the posing model Carlo Nash at the other end was forced into an excellent save as James O’Connor burst through and tested him with a shot towards the bottom corner.
Nash couldn’t hold it and astonishingly Ade Akinbiyi was ruled offside as he got onto the rebound. It is difficult to understand just how this assistant, who more than once let the referee down with bizarre decisions, could have come up with this one.
For a while it was even stuff but it was always Burnley who looked the more dangerous and twice Graham Branch, within minutes of coming on for the very disappointing Wade Elliott, got round the back of them to get dangerous balls into the box.
There had been a battle all night between Gifton Noel-Williams and the Preston defence with most situations ending with Gifton on the deck screaming for a free kick. He won some and he lost some but one he did win came closest of all to breaking the deadlock.
Right on the corner of the Preston penalty box on the left hand side it looked as though Jon Harley would have a strike at goal with Hyde and O’Connor initially standing as a wall behind the ball set to move as he run up.
In a superbly worked move they didn’t budge and Harley run up and then pushed Hyde out of the way before continuing his run. Hyde slipped the ball through and left Harley clear in front of goal but on his right foot he just couldn’t get the shot in. What an incredible goal it would have been, the move fooled the Burnley fans expecting a shot and it also bamboozled the Preston defence.
It was all Burnley now and with any luck at all we could have won it during this spell but as the clock ticked down the home side came with their usual tactic of making penalty appeals. Graham Alexander was almost practicing the spot kicks as they tried to con referee Dermot Gallagher.
But this was Gallagher and not Laws and this was a referee on the top of his game, he was having none of that nonsense. And neither was Tony Leake who was acting as fourth official and at one point was having to act as a boxing referee as the two dug outs had a real go at each other.
In the very last minute Preston did win a free kick in a dangerous position and hearts were in mouths, but it came to nothing and it was to be their last chance as we played out the added time with no problem whatsoever.
It was a point, nothing more, and it still leaves us hovering too close to the bottom of the league. But this was more than a point in so many ways, it was a performance that proved so many doubters wrong.
Full of commitment and no little ability was how one person described it as we left the ground and that really did sum it up. Although it might have been nothing like Wigan a year ago it was based on a superb defensive display. McGreal was McGreal again whilst we could only admire the full debut of Keith Lowe who really was outstanding.
In front of them the two central midfield players Micah Hyde and James O’Connor ruled the roost. There have been concerns over O’Connor’s recent performances but not tonight as he got somewhere close to his best, whilst alongside him for me was the man of the match Micah Hyde. His was a magnificent midfield performance.
But more than that it was a team performance that was so much needed and a performance that surely will send us to Plymouth with a lot more confidence on Saturday. This was so much more like last season.
The teams were,
Preston: Carlo Nash, Graham Alexander, Chris Lucketti, Claude Davis, Callum Davidson, Chris Sedgwick (Tyrone Mears 66), Dickson Etuhu, David Jones, Paul McKenna (Patrick Agyemang 75), Danny Dichio, Dave Nugent. Subs not used: Andy Lonergan, Youl Mawene, Adam Nowland.
Burnley: Danny Coyne, Michael Duff, Keith Lowe, John McGreal, Jon Harley, Wade Elliott (Graham Branch 64), Micah Hyde, James O’Connor, John Spicer, Gifton Noel-Williams, Ade Akinbiyi. Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Duane Courtney, Chris McCann, Karl Bermingham.
Referee: Dermot Gallagher (Oxford).