Alex Neil felt Jayden Stockley’s 91st-minute equaliser to earn Preston North End a 2-2 draw against Sheffield United was no less than his players deserved for their efforts against the Premier League side at Bramall Lane.
Stockley headed home from fellow substitute Paul Gallagher’s cross in injury time to earn the Lilywhites a second draw against top flight opposition this week – that coming after John Lundstram’s opener and both sides converting penalties within 15 minutes of the second half restart.
North End were unfortunate not to have taken gone ahead after hitting the woodwork twice with the scoreline still goalless, and after feeling his side had upped the ante even further after the break, the manager was delighted to see his side claim a draw and maintain their unbeaten pre-season record.
“I thought we were excellent,” he told iFollow PNE. “I didn’t think we started as good as I would have hoped, but I thought after a little bit - where I thought their shape was really quite aggressive – and then I thought we got to grips with it, I thought we performed very well after that.
“I think to be honest, a draw was the least we deserved. Sheffield United are a good side, they move the ball well, they’ve got a formation and a strategy which is difficult to counter-act, but I think in the past and today, I think that we were well versed in how we deal with that and I thought we did it extremely well.”
Scott Sinclair ended a scintillating run by hitting the post, with Tom Barkhuizen doing likewise with the follow-up, only three minutes before Lundstram broke the deadlock for the hosts.
“I felt we didn’t deserve to go in losing at half-time,” Alex continued. “When you miss a good chance and then they capitalise on a poor clearance from us, that’s disappointing. We were expecting a better performance second half and we certainly got that.
“Albeit, we didn’t play poorly first half, I thought we did OK, second half I thought we were very good and probably forced the issue a little bit more.
“I thought they had a good chance where they hit the post, we had a really good chance a couple of times – Tommy B was through got us a penalty, DJ one came across and another I think he tried to slip Bill but didn’t really get his feet sorted.
“Then big Jayden comes on and it’s a great ball from Gally and we get the equaliser. I think that was reward for the lads’ efforts; I thought there were lots of good performances today, I thought a couple of centre backs played really well, Ben Pearson was excellent, Ryan did well – I thought there was good performances all over the pitch to be honest.”
In-keeping with his assessment of his side, the manager was pleased to see Tom Barkhuizen providing a renewed threat after the break, playing a particularly important role in North End being awarded the spot kick that was converted by Johnson, skipper on the afternoon.
“I felt first half he was probably a bit passive, Tom, playing the wrong side of the pitch, not coming across, not being effective enough with his runs. But I thought second half, he’s a threat, he’s a constant threat. Two of our best chances come through Tom and we get the penalty through Tom.
“We know what Tom brings at the top end, we understand and know at times that he’s not going to be that link for us, but he is more than capable of doing it, I think he shows flashes of being that link, and quality, and popping it off and getting it in behind. As we know with his pace, he’s always going to cause teams problems.”
As the Lilywhites prepare for another away trip to Premier League opposition tomorrow – taking on Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton at Goodison Park – Alex is confident that the testing pre-season period is providing great preparation for PNE ahead of next weekend’s league opener against Swansea City.
“We’ve not made it easy on ourselves in terms of the games we’ve took, but we need to get ourselves prepped for this year, it’s going to be a big year for us.
“We’re undefeated at the moment, albeit it doesn’t give us points, but I think for confidence and for belief of the lads and understanding what we’re doing, I think you could see today we’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re about and how we play.
“I think guys like Scott Sinclair and Brad Potts and guys that we have recruited more recently, they’re coming more and more to the fore, I think they’re doing very well.”
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