Crossing the north-south divide: Preston 2 Coventry 1
Being called love by the barmaid was a sign I was in the north; having to wait several minutes to be served was proof that she’d clocked a southerner. It was my fault for being under thirty and dressed in a cardigan. This scene took place on Saturday when, as I previewed last week, I made the journey up to Preston from London to meet a friend from Glasgow for the fixture between the Championship’s bottom club and the latest side in the division to have traded-in their manager — that is, until Scunthorpe stole their thunder two days later — Coventry City.
If I was in any way delirious from having travelled up to Lancashire after banking just a couple of hours of sleep after a night out, however, the majority of the other 12,268 people present caught up with my emotions at about ten to five when the home side’s Nathan Ellington volleyed in a corner at the near post to give Preston their second win in five days. With Crystal Palace only drawing at home to Derby back in the capital, the victory narrowed the gap between Phil Brown’s team and safety to eight points. The brilliant strike by the man on loan from Watford was not enough to stop Preston ending the day where they started it at the foot of the table — nor could it have been — but that didn’t matter inside Deepdale as the home fans celebrated a goal that, if the Lilywhites are to stand any chance of averting relegation to League One, simply had to be scored.
The happy ending to proceedings, from a Preston perspective, had seemed decidedly unlikely when the game entered stoppage-time at one goal apiece. If Coventry caretaker manager Andy Thorn’s introduction of David Bell on the hour had had the subtle effect of allowing the away side to shift to 4-4-2, with Freddy Eastwood moving into a more central position to partner Lukas Jutkiewicz up front, the substitution reaped a more obvious benefit after 71 minutes. Jutkiewicz flicked a cross into Bell’s path and the midfielder cushioned a volley past Iain Turner to equalise Iain Hume’s first-half goal for Preston.
Hume, who was later voted man of the match, had put the home side in front when a Keith Treacy shot rebounded into his path. Perhaps it was because a similar effort of his a few minutes earlier, which had flashed narrowly wide, had got the Canada international’s blood pumping already, but Hume celebrated the goal so enthusiastically that his face had changed colour by the time Coventry kicked-off. It was difficult to tell whether Hume’s newly puce features rivalled his manager’s in the brightness stakes more than, given the player’s bald head, they made him resemble an adrenaline-fuelled Mitchell brother tearing about the pitch. Such thoughts kept my friend and I occupied at half-time, as a local girl band did their best to be heard over the rush to the kiosks.
While hardly creating a stream of chances, as the second half progressed Coventry had begun to control the tempo of the game more. That they did so was in no small part thanks to the efforts of Sammy Clingan in midfield. The Northern Ireland international sat in front of the Sky Blues’ back four, offering for the ball and moving possession from one side of the pitch to the other as Coventry probed gingerly for a winner. His contribution was ultimately in vain, though, and with two of the midfielder’s former clubs currently in play-off contention, the reasons for his leaving Nottingham Forest and then Norwich City must play on Clingan’s mind.
Preston have a game in hand over the other sides, Coventry now definitely among them, either in the relegation zone or casting an eye back at it. That fixture in reserve, however, is an away game at Reading on 5th April. The Royals are only three points behind sixth-placed Forest — the same gap that separates Preston from the team directly above them in twenty-third place, Scunthorpe — so the likelihood of Phil Brown being able to rustle up a second away win on the spin looks fairly slim. Buoyed by the victories against the Iron and now Coventry, though, the Preston board must be hoping for a better turnout for the club’s next match, again at home, this time to Swansea. With tickets for Saturday’s game having been on offer for £10, seeing Deepdale only a little over half full did surprise me — despite the side’s league position — after being present when over 24,000 packed into the Valley last month when tickets were reduced for the League One game between Charlton and Exeter.
From a personal perspective, though, the only disappointment of the day was that buying the Preston programme, The One and Only, proved to be possibly the most regrettable three pounds I’ve spent in my life. An interview with Wade Barrett of WWE fame rather set the tone. The frivolity of my purchase notwithstanding, Phil Brown’s column was notable for its liberal use of bold type as a motivational tool. The manager who grabbed the microphone to sing when Hull escaped relegation from the Premier League in 2009 has, thanks to incidents like that, been accused of taking his sides’ successes on the pitch a little too personally. When he emphasises, literally in an editorial sense if figuratively as an action, just how much Preston are “fighting” for their Championship status, though, it’s hard to deny Brown’s commitment to the cause whatever glory he might claim for himself were the team to defy the odds and stay up.
William also writes for his own blog, Saha from the Madding Crowd, the title of which gives away his Manchester United sympathies. With that in mind, he finds contributing to The Two Unfortunates to be very good for the soul.