A relentlessly dreary encounter with a Preston side in the last chance saloon for an unlikely play off place ended, thankfully, with a valuable point and a small step forward as Town’s rivals collapsed to heavy defeats.
Evidently fatigued in mind and body, Town met the physicality of their Lancastrian visitors but at the expense of creativity; one shot on target, which barely troubled the opposing keeper, was the damning statistic though it was one more than the Lilywhites managed despite being much the more threatening side.
The resolute defending which earned the point was nearly thrown away in the dying embers of an encounter whose passing nobody will either mourn or remember as 3 Preston attempts narrowly failed to provide a lifeline for their faint ambitions. A couple of efforts from substitute and veteran Scott Sinclair curled just wide while Maguire’s shank in to the side netting was a genuine let off for the hosts at the very end of injury time.
A point for both sides was generous reward for a spectacle of drab monotony. While Preston can point to a progressive first 20 minutes of domination which regularly troubled Town’s left flank, most of the deliveries in to the box were routinely cleared and the visitors were unable to make anything of a succession of corners and the odd free kick.
After the first water break, Town tightened up considerably, held a better shape and successfully doused Preston’s ambition. Sadly, it didn’t translate in to any improvement up front with O’Brien’s speculative and unremarkable effort straight at Rudd elevated to the major incident of the half.
Defensively, however, Town deserved some plaudits. After the sluggish performances against Wigan and Forest, Schindler and Stearman’s partnership has come under considerable scrutiny even though there isn’t much in the way of alternatives, but the last 2 games should restore some confidence in the duo who both had strong claims for man of the match. The German probably scrapes it with a wonderfully executed tackle in the second half which halted a Barkhuizen raid which may have turned ugly (everything else did!).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Town’s more combative players stood out in a hour and a half of attrition. Hogg and O’Brien worked tirelessly to halt Preston’s flow in the middle of the park, provided good cover in front of the central defenders and helped out the flanks when necessary. All at the expense of genuine offensive threat, however.
Even the introduction of Smith-Rowe, replacing the infuriatingly ineffective Pritchard failed to spark much forward momentum though he made one or two thrusting breaks which only lacked support.
Mounié also entered the fray from the bench and his aerial ability provided more respite than Campbell’s attempts at harassing. Had there been more support around him, some of Mounié’s well intentioned headers in to space may have produced some semblance of danger but they all went to waste.
Quaner arrived on to the pitch to deliver his usual idiosyncrasies which were ever so slightly more effective than Kachunga’s falling over and failure to control the ball.
As minutes turned in to seemingly endless hours, the beautiful game continued to take a savage beating and Alex Neil’s introduction of Stockley added an extra layer of brutality the abomination richly deserved, but to little effect.
The scares in the closing stages at least provided an opportunity for emotional response from what must have been a vastly diminished audience, but couldn’t extinguish the loathsome fare served up in normal time.
Clutching their valuable point, however, Town can see the finish line and with a two result advantage over the presumptive bottom three with Wigan in it and strong goal difference advantage over Barnsley and Luton, the chances of survival are much improved since last Sunday.
Let’s move on. Quickly.