Preston North End brought themselves back into the playoff race with a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers. First-half goals from Greg Cunningham and Liam Lindsay saw Preston race into a 2-0 lead after 43 minutes. Blackburn pulled one back just before the breakthrough an Adam Armstrong penalty, but they couldn't find an equaliser despite improving in the second half.
Story of the match
After an uneventful start to the game, Preston found themselves in front just shy of the 20-minute mark. Greg Cunningham fired in a beautifully hit drive from the left corner of the box, after picking Alan Browne’s cross-field pass out of the sky with a deft first touch.
Chances were at a premium for the first 42 minutes. Preston’s pressing was exceptional and they did a terrific job of stopping Blackburn from playing, but the game sparked into life in the last few minutes of the first period. And the away side managed to double their lead two minutes before stoppage time.
Ryan Ledson’s inswinging corner found the head of Liam Lindsay at the near post. The on-loan Stoke City defender managed to get a slight touch on it, and the ball found its way into the net after brushing Sam Gallagher’s shoulder.
Preston looked comfortable defensively throughout the first half, but Blackburn were gifted a route back into this Lancashire derby on the stroke of half time. Andrew Hughes tripped Gallagher in the area, and Armstrong’s penalty was too hot to handle for Daniel Iversen.
Armstrong then came agonisingly close to levelling proceedings deep into added time. Barry Douglas delivered a wicked low cross into the front post, and Armstrong’s nonchalant flick was saved brilliantly by Iverson.
Blackburn did improve after the break, with the introduction of Stewart Downing, Harvey Elliott and Tyrhys Dolan adding plenty of energy and attacking intent. Despite that, they didn't create any clear cut chances.
Dack found himself free at the back post from a corner, but he seemed to be stuck in two minds as his header back across the face of goal hit the roof of the net. Armstrong had another half-chance with his head, and Dack did have a goal disallowed ten minutes before the end. Dolan’s cross from a short corner was flicked on by Armstrong, and the ball made its way through to Dack who prodded it in at the back post from an offside position.
For all of Rovers’ possession, it was the away side who created the better opportunities in the second period. Substitute Emil Riis nearly had a dream impact, as he forced a save out of Iverson after nutmegging Jarrad Branthwaite. The on-loan Everton defender was lucky not to give away a penalty after fouling Riis, but the striker stayed on his feet and the referee didn’t point to the spot.
Preston scored a disallowed goal of their own on 88 minutes. Brad Potts had an effort from outside the box which deflected in off the knee of Ched Evans, but the striker had strayed offside.
Takeaways from the match
Preston’s Pressing Disrupts Blackburn
Alex Neil’s side have produced some very good away performances this season by pressing teams high up the pitch. That’s exactly what they did to Blackburn, particularly in the first half when the home side looked all over the place.
The two strikers, Tom Barkhuizen and Ched Evans, worked relentlessly to stop Blackburn from playing out of the back. Daniel Johnson joined in with the press just behind them to stop central midfielder Jacob Davenport from finding space in deep areas. The aggressive Ryan Ledson got tight to Lewis Travis, with Ben Whiteman dropping deeper to pick up any loose balls.
This plan stopped Blackburn from playing through central areas, and North End were very quick to swarm around Rovers players when they worked the ball out wide. In particular, Davenport and left-winger Joe Rothwell struggled to make an impact on the game before being hooked at half time.
North End’s back five on top form
Despite only having 36.5% of the ball, Preston didn’t give away many clear cut chances. Blackburn’s overall expected goals tally was 1.83, but the bulk of that number came from the penalty and Armstrong’s first-half flick.
In the second period when Neil’s side needed to hold on to their lead, they only allowed 0.64 xG on their goal. And none of them were clear cut chances.
North End started with a back three only for the fifth time this season, but it worked a treat. They were dominant in the air, which was important because Preston managed to force their hosts to play long frequently.
Liam Lindsay was outstanding in the air and he marshalled the defence brilliantly. Wing-backs Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham pressed the opposing full-backs aggressively, and the visitors relied on them for width.
The outside centre-backs defended the wide areas well, particularly Jordan Storey.
Blackburn’s second-half improvements
Unsurprisingly, Tony Mowbray rang the changes at the break. Rovers started in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Dack playing as an attacking midfielder. That changed to their more familiar 4-3-3 shape after the interval. Dack dropped deeper, and Stewart Downing was introduced into the engine room.
Blackburn managed to play get those two players on the ball in deep areas, and they had the quality to pick out quality forward passes.
Dolan was introduced at the break, and Harvey Elliott came on shortly after the hour mark. The young duo offered more trickery in wide areas, which gave Preston’s backline something else to think about.
But despite these changes injecting more life into the performance, Blackburn didn’t manage to create any big chances in the second period.
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray made two changes from the side that lost 1-0 to QPR. Harvey Elliott was given a rest, and Bradley Dack came in to make only his second league start of the season as he steps up his recovery from injury. Barry Douglas replaced Amari'i Bell at left-back.
After losing 2-1 at home to Rotherham United, Preston chief Alex Neil made four changes to his line-up. Daniel Johnson, Alan Browne, Jordan Storey and Greg Cunningham came in for Paul Huntington, Joe Rafferty, Jayson Molumby and Anthony Gordon.