50 years of hurt

Battered, bruised and beaten, Town never looked like ending their 50 year winless streak at Deepdale as the home side’s power pressing flattened the visitors for over an hour before quelling a late revival.

To cope with Preston’s superior physicality, Town needed the type of resilience on display at Griffin Park a week ago but countering a team who approach a game with surgical ambition is wholly different from one which applies relentless brute force with the occasional splash of skill and precision.

The loss of both Hogg and Brown proved fatal. Chalobah continues to flounder in the face of intensity and Kongolo’s passive presence at left back contributed to both first half concessions; the replacements simply weren’t up to it while the home side’s absentees, which were as potentially damaging, were shrugged off by a squad clearly of greater depth.

Though a home victory rarely looked in doubt – a second Town goal in their only encouraging spell late on may have produced an interesting finish – any semblance of a game plan was undone by a poor decision by a quite dreadful referee before 5 minutes had elapsed. Chalobah’s tackle on the edge of the box was fair and well timed but, it seems, the decision was predicated on Stockley’s dramatics. He gamely played on and was on hand to convert when Gallagher’s excellently struck free kick came back in to the area off the post.

The official was poor throughout with baffling decisions but had Kongolo made anything like a challenge immediately before the erroneous free kick award, Town wouldn’t have had to face a dangerous situation at all.

Town’s struggles persisted throughout a first half and their passivity all over the pitch was meat and drink to an Alex Neil side who were superior in every aspect of the game.

It didn’t help that an over the top tackle disrupted the visitors’ central defence with Elphick helped off the field with a serious injury which warranted more than a yellow card for Ledson.

Preston’s second always seemed likely as Town struggled to contain the Lilywhites’ persistent energy and greater commitment but, again, questions need to be asked of Kongolo who allowed acres of space for Barkhuizen to cross to the back post for Browne to squeeze his shot off Grabara in to the net.

It was the least the Lancastrians’ dominant display deserved and the score at the interval could have been significantly worse for the Terriers had the hosts made more of a seemingly never ending sequence of corners.

Overwhelmed and pretty obviously beaten, Town produced little of note before the interval going forward despite some probing by O’Brien who also had the only effort of the half with a blocked shot in a rare foray.

In contrast, Preston could feel slightly disappointed that their complete control garnered just 2 goals, particularly against a defence which could barely cope down one side and disrupted by Elphick’s injury. Stankovic and Schindler dealt with their aerial threat from the inordinate number of corners quite well but with colleagues’ inability to break out from a suffocating press, they rarely had time to recover from the constant home assaults.

Any hopes that Town could miraculously reverse the flow of a game in which they had been comprehensively battered were quickly extinguished 5 minutes in to the second half. Already visibly rocking under yet more home pressure, Kongolo’s arm got in the way of a cross in the area and a clear cut penalty was conceded. Gallagher’s idiosyncratic penalty taking style was employed and he smashed the ball centrally past Grabara.

At 3-0, Town were buried and a more severe battering was far more predictable than the slightly face saving result which would eventually transpire.

Right up to the 70th minute, the home side were by far more likely to extend their lead but the introduction of Pritchard and, to a lesser extent, Mounié, turned the tide and forced the home side on to the defensive for the first time.

Cowley’s tactical switch may have been a little too late in to the half, but replacing the isolated and frustrated Diakhaby with a central aerial presence in Mounié and sacrificing Simpson at right back for more creativity further forward with Pritchard produced a glimmer of hope for a comeback as the visitors finally got on the front foot.

Bacuna, who had slotted in on the right defensively, ran at Preston from deep and, largely unchallenged, got a shot off just inside the area and his poke took a deflection off a defender and past the previously untroubled Rudd.

Had a Pritchard header from a decent move beaten the defender near the line rather than being cleared, Preston’s resolve may have been tested a little more but, as it was, a reasonably encouraging last 20 minutes was to no avail.

Anything other than a comprehensive home victory would have been a travesty, however, and it should be said that Preston’s promotion aspirations look realistic and, given their budget, admirable. While there can be some misgivings at an approach which emphasises the physical, Neil has assembled a collection of low cost players in to a very effective unit who can overwhelm teams with a high octane energy and to see the last of the famous names taste the dubious pleasures of the Premier League would not be begrudged.

Perhaps the good people of Preston need to back their team a little better though; the large number of empty seats is scant reward or recognition for their achievements.

Town can now use two weeks to patch up the injured (though Elphick’s recovery is likely to take longer) and reflect on the strides they have made since the last international break; to take 3 points from two very tough assignments is at least 1 more than most would have predicted. The repairs to a severely damaged squad continue and setbacks are inevitable; losing to a very strong promotion contender who rarely fail at home was one of the most predictable.





Bees’ sting stifled

A final visit to Griffin Park, unless the FA cup throws up another meeting, saw Town extend their unlikely, hugely encouraging and faith restoring unbeaten run against a talented, in form Brentford who were squeezed and blunted for long periods.


The visitors’ suffocating tactics did not a great spectacle make but the quality of Grant’s winning strike illuminated a dank West London afternoon and the discipline and tenacity sustained throughout deservedly reaped a three point reward.

Disappointed home supporters will no doubt decry tactics which pushed towards the outer boundaries of gamesmanship at times, but their team looked and played like one rather too believing of the publicity accompanying recent, excellent, performances and the threat they undoubtedly possess rarely troubled a defensive master class from the Terriers.


Over the years at Brentford’s magnificently ramshackle home ground which is always a pleasure to visit despite a less than perfect view from the standing area of the away end, and going right back to Warnock’s days, Town win when they dig in and stifle and lose heavily if they opt for expansion.

Most remember the play off semi final in 1995 which kick started an unlikely long distance and intermittent rivalry but the final game of the 93/94 season which turned in to a ridiculously brutal game despite having no consequences for either team was just as relevant. 1-0 down and in danger of being bullied in to defeat, Warnock threw Jepson in to the mix for the final 20 minutes and carnage ensued. A 2-1 win set the tone for the next season and that dramatic evening and penalty shoot out.


Fortunes have ebbed and flowed ever since and the Griffin Park encounters have always been more interesting than those back in Huddersfield; the move away is very much to be regretted but may give the Bees the lift they need from admired also rans in to contenders. The area around will still have the same terrific pubs and friendly welcome but will never be quite the same.

Unsurprisingly, the home side were on top for the first half hour but fashioned little in the way of chances and solid defending prevented them from creating any at all in the box and a couple of wayward long range efforts were the sum total of attempts on goal.


Pressing from the front slowed the Bees’ progress and swallowed up space as vital seconds were gained to allow a defensive shape to form time and time again so that even on the rare occasion Brentford escaped the shackles, they were faced with a blue wall and a keeper in fine form.

Led by Schindler at the back and Hogg in the middle, Town laid a platform for a counter attacking style which was eventually to overcome the division’s form team.


Towards the end of a pretty dire first half, it was Town who nearly went in front. Good work by the indefatigable O’Brien, who is blossoming in to a major talent, led to a chance for Grant and the leading scorer brought out a very good save by Raya who pushed his sharp shot around the post.

O’Brien also supplied an excellent ball in to the box just before the break which narrowly eluded Campbell and Town had served warning to their hosts that their plan extended beyond stifling containment.


Following a similar pattern to the first, Brentford were on the front foot early in the second half but it was notable that the greatest moment of danger came as Town were temporarily down to 10 men; the prone Brown, who was to be replaced soon after by Hadergjonaj, was ignored firstly by the referee and then by Grabara who kept the ball in play rather than relieve pressure. 

He more than made up for the error, however, with a fantastic save from an inadvertent header under enormous pressure by Elphick, tipping the ball away to safety.


Elphick, it should be said after the pillorying he has had, not least in these columns, was excellent throughout and made several vital interceptions and was never tempted to over play.


Town then inflicted a crushing blow to Brentford, and one they possibly suspected was coming. A long ball from the impressive Simpson was held up well by the hard working Campbell who then laid it off to Grant. The striker now had the space in the box for which he yearns and hit a superb strike past Raya who had no chance this time.


With just under half an hour plus injury time undoubtedly boosted to compensate for some less than subtle time wasting from the visitors, an onslaught was to be expected but never really materialised and, if anything, Town looked more likely to add to their lead on the break and Grant provided a good opportunity for substitute Diakhaby to poke wide and combined excellently with O’Brien in a raid which ended with a wayward Chalobah effort.


There had been lingering doubts about the unbeaten run given the relative quality of opposition and a not unsubstantial quota of good fortune, but this win against a very talented opponent to extend it goes a great deal towards confirming the impression that the corner has truly been turned.


Disciplined, resilient and dangerous when allowed the Cowley brothers’ impact has been nothing short of miraculous; though they would rightly counter that miracles are fairy stories and hard work has transformed what can only be described as a bunch of losers in to an outfit which can compete with anyone in this division.


Farewell to Griffin Park, we’ll miss you.