This was a game of two halves. We scored twice in the first half, might have put the game beyond doubt and were a constant threat to the visitors who appeared to be there for the taking but we then snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. I suspect that our players thought that they would be able to comfortably coast through the second half but Simon Grayson’s half-time words stung Preston into second half action and they dominated the second half as much as we had controlled the first.
They got into our faces and scored the vital third goal of the match on 64 minutes which led to our players showing the anxieties and frailties that they are still prone to. Our visitors ran the show in the second half and were level on 76 minutes with their second goal in 12 minutes. We were fortunate that they did not push too hard for a winner that would have shattered our unbeaten home record.
Each game we play seems to put a play-off place further away from us. We are now 9 points off sixth place. Defeats for the fourth, fifth and sixth placed clubs gave us an opportunity to close the gap on them further but we squandered that chance yesterday. We need to go on a run of wins now to make up the gap between us and sixth spot and to leapfrog the teams (including yesterday’s visitors) that stand between the top six and us. Sadly, we draw too many home games and lose too many games away to make us going on such a run look a realistic prospect.
Before the game, I along with others were left wondering why on earth Gabby was in the starting line-up yet again. We now know. He was in the team because Ross McCormack has in recent weeks developed the sort of fitness and attitude issues that he had himself displayed over recent years. It is almost amusing that the recent behaviour of McCormack which mirrors that of Gabby over a longer period has ensured Gabby’s extended run in the side at a time when we had hoped McCormack might take the opportunity that the absence of Kodjia and Ayew on international duties offered him to show he could get goals for us as regularly as he has for others in the past.
We now have some time available to reinforce further the team that will travel to Brentford with new signings and players potentially returning from international calls. That time will also offer McCormack an opportunity to begin to change his attitude and to try to seek the forgiveness for his misdemeanours that Gabby has been granted for his by Steve Bruce.
My player ratings from a game before and during which we remembered Graham Taylor are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Had the quietest of first halves. He appears to like to take the option of punching rather than trying to catch the ball when he has the choice doesn’t he? Given that, he needs to try to get some more distance on those punches on a more consistent basis if they are to become a reliable safe option. Grabbed an 82nd minute header near the goal line and has a level of confidence about him.
Alan Hutton – 7 – Made some decent forward runs particularly early on and this must go down as one of his better games for us.
James Chester - 7 – Won everything in the air. Was left flat footed on the edge of the box as Hugill took the ball to his right and hit their opener before Amavi could get a challenge in.
Nathan Baker – 7 – Another competent performance by what is our most improved player this season. He certainly learnt some good things during his loan to Bristol City last season and has now become one of the first names on our team sheet.
Jordan Amavi – 5 – Lost possession more often than he would be expected to and disappointingly looked less effective as the game wore on prior to his late substitution.
Albert Adomah – 7 – MOTM – Albert scored a brace of goals which should have been enough to secure the win. His first was a tap in from around a yard when unmarked but he was in the right place at the right time to put us ahead on 22 minutes and the referee let it stand despite vociferous appeals from the visitors for a foul by Gabby on the keeper. Sent Maxwell the wrong way from the spot after 36 minutes for his second. He had been found on the edge of the box by Amavi and ran on only for McGeady to win the ball but bring him and concede a penalty that incensed the visitors. Had an 88th minute shot kept out by Maxwell at his near post.
Henri Lansbury - 7 – Pinged a couple of excellent passes and looked comfortable on the ball. He also takes a good corner which makes a pleasant change to what we have grown accustomed to. His lack of recent games started to tell in the second half as Preston took control of the midfield and he was substituted on 77 minutes. He will get even better with games and with another new midfield maestro alongside him shortly.
Ashley Westwood – 6 – Started well and looked to be enjoying playing alongside Lansbury but faded somewhat as the game wore on and the opposition found him less of a barrier to their progress through the middle than they would have the injured Jedinak. Hit the ball just over on 32 minutes after Lansbury had played a terrific ball to find Adomah.
Jack Grealish – 6 – Needs to try to impose himself more on games than he did yesterday and to remember as he had started to do up until yesterday that he has a role to play when the opposition have the ball as well as when we do. Given little protection from some rough treatment from opponents by a referee who appeared unconcerned that they were using this tactic to nullify his undoubted but too rarely seen talent. Hit a stoppage time cross behind Gabby when a late winner had for a fleeting moment looked possible. Might have won this one for us at times but didn’t quite produce the final touch to do so.
Andre Green – 6 – Missed a good opportunity to open the scoring on 12 minutes when he headed Gabby’s cross wide when he really should have at least been on target. He clearly has potential and the ability to take on and beat defenders. He needs games and the increased confidence that a run of first team appearances should give him.
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – Gabby’s starting place is now unlikely to come under any serious threat until Kodjia or Ayew or both return from international duty or we sign another striker. Gabby did well enough yesterday and worked very hard. It was asking a lot of him to play as a lone striker but he did win a couple of balls in the air and pressed defenders. He does not have the pace he once had and what goal threat that he once possessed has now almost entirely been extinguished but he will no doubt claim an assist for our opening goal. Grealish chipped a ball over a defender for Gabby to run onto inside the box but his attempt to chest the ball down only led to the ball bouncing out of his reach. He tried to get his foot to the ball as he collided with the keeper and the ball ran loose to be tapped home by the unmarked Adomah near the line for our first. The ball ended up in the side netting on 33 minutes when he looked to have an opportunity to add a second. His best display for us in a long, long time but that is not saying that much, is it?
Leandro Bacuna – 6 – Replaced Henri on 72 minutes. Hit an 83rd minute shot from the edge of the box that Maxwell held easily enough.
Gary Gardner – Replaced Amavi on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating.
Keinan Davis – Replaced Grealish on the 93rd minute and was also not on long enough to get any sort of rating. Perhaps he should have been given a chance earlier?
Up the Villa!