PNE 1 Ipswich Town 2
They say that stats don’t lie. Well, they do. And North End found that out to their detriment at Deepdale on Saturday.
Despite winning the shot count 16 to four, the Lilywhites lost out with what matters most – the scoreline.
After Brett Pitman has nodded Ipswich ahead, PNE responded brilliantly through Daniel Johnson, before a wonder strike by Ryan Fraser sealed the points for the away side, ending the Lilywhites’ unbeaten home league run in the process.
Simon Grayson's side were dealt a blow before kick-off with the news that on loan Manchester United forward Will Keane was to miss the match after picking up a leg knock against Rotherham United on Tuesday meaning a change of style and formation for the visit of Ipswich.
Joe Garner was left to forage alone up top with support coming in the form of Paul Gallagher, Johnson and Chris Humphrey; Neil Kilkenny and John Welsh anchoring the midfield.
Tom Clarke reverted to the right back role he had become accustomed to in the second half of the 2014/15 season with Paul Huntington and Bailey Wright partnering at the heart of defence.
And Deepdale was in fine voice during the opening stages; Chris Humphrey almost giving the home support something to really shout about in the seventh minute, but his shot on the turn was blocked from Garner’s knock down.
From PNE’s second corner in quick succession, Huntington almost had the hosts in front, but his bullet header from Gallagher’s delivery flew over the crossbar.
Humphrey, North End’s obvious early outlet, won a free kick on the right hand side in the 11th minute. And from Gallagher’s wicked delivery, Garner saw his close range header bounce off an Ipswich defender before the ball deflected back off the PNE No.14 before dropping agonisingly wide.
It was all North End in the early exchanges, and, with a quarter of an hour on the clock, the away side could only clear the danger as far as Greg Cunningham who nodded into the path of Gallagher; the Scot’s stinging drive from the left angle of the area thumping off Dean Gerken’s gloves and away to safety.
The home attack was relentless; Garner dragging his shot from just outside the area wide before a rousing round of applause reverberated around Deepdale when Wembley hero Jermaine Beckford came out of the technical area to warm-up to the acclaim of the Preston faithful – his first sighting of the season following injury.
For all North End’s early attacking intent, arguably their best chance of the opening quarter came out of nothing, a deep cross field ball by Kilkenny met by Humphrey who had ghosted in, unmarked, at the back post.
But he got his finish all wrong and PNE were made to pay.
A harsh lesson on life in the Championship was dealt to the Lilywhites when, with their first effort at goal, the Tractor Boys went ahead. Pitman nodding home after finding a yard of space in the penalty area from Freddie Sears’ cross from the left.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the dominance Preston had shown.
And matters got worse with 32 minutes on the clock when Cunningham, recently called into the provisional Republic of Ireland squad, was replaced by Calum Woods with a left leg injury.
But North End were back on level terms in the 37th minute after a terrific break from an Ipswich attack.
After picking up Huntington’s headed clearance, Preston sprung down the right quicker than lightning, the central defender finding Humphrey who had Johnson tearing up the turf through the middle.
With a two-on-one break, one Jamaican found another, and Johnson, cool and composed, slotted past Gerken.
It was the bare minimum PNE deserved with the shot count nine-one in their favour.
One stat not in their favour was the yellow card tally; Welsh booked for taking the legs from under Jonathan Douglas as the first half came to a close.
With the words of manager Mick McCarthy no doubt still ringing in their ears after an abject first half display, Ipswich began the second period in much finer fettle; Woods doing exceptionally well to head away the danger after Fraser’s advances to the byline with Douglas ready to tap home.
In the 61st minute, David McGoldrick, who was substituted for Ainsley Maitland-Niles moments later, flashed a shot over Jordan Pickford's crossbar. A clear signal of Town's intentions for the remainder of the contest.
And in the 65th minute the away side went ahead for a second time.
Fraser, with time and space about 25 yards from goal, superbly wrapped his right foot around the ball, bending it away from Pickford and into the far corner.
North End, still smarting from Fraser’s stunner, when back in search of a second equaliser. And they so nearly found it with 71 minutes played.
Following a scramble in the area, Welsh’s lofted cross from the left was met by the head of Huntington; Gerken only able to parry his shot as far as Garner who had the rebound brilliantly blocked by John Knudsen.
Garner was then booked in the 74th minute for deliberate handball as he tried to nod home from close range before Beckford entered the fray for the first time in 2015/16, the striker replacing Kilkenny.
He was followed into Mr Brown’s notepad by Wright who was somewhat harshly booked for tripping Maitland-Niles.
Simon Grayson’s last role of the dice in terms of personnel came in the 82nd minute when Kyel Reid replaced Gallagher.
And despite Garner's best efforts late on with a long range strike. It was to end up being a frustrating afternoon for North End.
PNE line-up: Pickford, Cunningham (Woods 32), Clarke (c), Wright, Humphrey, Kilkenny (Beckford 75), Johnson, Gallagher (Reid 82), Garner, Welsh, Huntington. Subs not used: Kirkland Vermijl, Browne, Brownhill.
Ipswich Town line-up: Gerken, Knudsen, Chambers (c), Smith, Berra, Skuse, McGoldrick (Maitland-Niles 62), Pitman, Fraser (Toure 85), Sears (Emmanuel 93), Douglas. Subs not used: Crowe, Coke, Tabb, Kenlock.
Attendance: 12,330 (960 away fans)
Referee: Mr M Brown