Alex Neil felt his Preston North End side were unfortunate not to take all three points from the visit of Stoke City to Deepdale.
The Lilywhites ultimately had to settle for a point, drawing 2-2 against the recently relegated side, despite having taken the lead through Paul Gallagher’s penalty and again late in the first half when Graham Burke volleyed home from close range.
Peter Crouch scored a second half header to earn the visitors a point, but the North End boss thought there was more than a touch of good fortune about that leveller, believing his side deserved more from the game than the draw.
“They didn’t [create many chances] and I thought we were the better side,” Alex told iFollow PNE.
“Our frustration is the fact that we took the lead and gave a really cheap [first] goal away from our point of view, we didn’t clear the header properly and didn’t match the run and unfortunately that cost us. But the response from the lads after that was obviously great to get a quick goal right after it and before half-time.
“In the second half, I thought the goal against us was a bit unfortunate, Crouch goes up, turns his back and it hits his back and it ends up in the back of the net when it could really have gone anywhere.
“We’ve got to defend that a little bit better, probably the biggest player in the league has come on the pitch and we’ve not got enough round him to make sure we’re going to deal with him. I think after that he [Crouch] barely won a header. But that’s the one that matters, that’s where the frustration comes in.
“As always, though, the lads gave everything they’ve got and I can’t be critical of them in terms of their effort and endeavour and what they tried to do. Based on the performance over the 90 minutes, if anyone was going to win it, I thought it was going to be us.”
Another talking point from the game centred around refereeing decisions, Paul Gallagher’s first half challenge on Joe Allen leading to plenty of discussion which the boss felt was perhaps unwarranted, the gaffer suggesting other incidents against his team had gone under the radar.
“The worst one for me is when Tom Barkhuizen is over on the far side, he takes the ball on his chest and the Stoke boy has just come right through the back of him.
“Anywhere else on the pitch, that’s a free-kick, so why they don’t then have the courage to give it [as a foul] in the box, I’m not sure.
“Both teams and both managers are desperate to get the third decisions. I know they will bring up Gally catching Joe Allen in the face, which is fine, but I would argue about the one with Barkhuizen getting fouled in the box.
“It’s horses for courses, you get decisions sometimes and sometimes not. What I’m not going to do is listen to people saying they were hard done by when I don’t believe that was the case.”
PNE made a strong start to the game, Lukas Nmecha having an early header saved by Stoke ‘keeper Jack Butland, and Neil said that kickstarted an encouraging first half display from his team, which culminated in Burke’s emphatic strike deep into stoppage time.
“It was a good opportunity for us and it probably came too early in the game for him [Nmecha] but he gets himself in between people and probably should do better.
“To be honest, I think that set the tone for the first half. I thought we moved the ball really well and created some good chances first half.
“In terms of crosses, we put a number of good ones in and Lukas’ [chance] comes from a cross as well. But when you’re playing against good sides, you need to make sure you make those count and if we want to be at the top end of the league, we need to be clinical and from the opportunities six yards out with a header, you need to hit the target.
“He’s [Graham Burke] got great technique and great quality, we just want to try to get him an understanding of his position, because generally, he’s played as a number ten.
“He can still do that role, I just felt today we needed Alan [Browne’s] legs in there to try and stretch them with Lukas. Graham was dropping into the pockets in between the lines and causing them problems; I thought that worked really well for us.”