What a difference five days (and 14 different players) makes. Preston North End left St. James Park Wednesday night knocked out of the English League Cup after conceding six goals to a heavily rotated Newcastle side. However, today was an evenly contested match and not the cakewalk some expected for Newcastle after the 6-0 win. Today, we got the team that is in the top half of the league.
Preston’s Manager Simon Grayson made 9 changes in personnel and made a change in formation, opting for a back four instead of the 5-3-2 formation he used Wednesday.
Rafael Benitez made 5 changes to his team: Karl Darlow was back in goal replacing Matz Sels; Rafa’s number one defensive pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark was back in for Chancel Mbemba and Grant Hanley; After getting a midweek breather, Jonjo Shelvey was back in the midfield, playing alongside Isaac Hayden; and Yoan Gouffran was back on the left wing replacing Christian Atsu.
Newcastle had two-thirds of the possession in the first 15 minutes of the game but struggled to create chances. The Lilywhites wanted to dictate the game in front of their home fans.
Here’s a snapshot of a ten minute period where Preston was putting on the pressure, making Newcastle look vulnerable to a goal concession. 66% possession, two shots, four corners, and and excellent Karl Darlow save later, Preston and Newcastle were still tied at zero.
With no changes made at half, Preston began the second half much like they ended the first - as the better team. After 55 minutes it was clear that Gouffran and Diame were contributing very little to the game. Judging by their touches (below), never hearing their names being called by the broadcasters, and with Perez and Atsu on the bench, it looked like changes were needed to grab any points from Deepdale.
But just five minutes later, against the run of play (with no substitutions made), Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the go-ahead goal that Newcastle desperately needed. The game started to open up after the goal and Newcastle was able to grab a second goal, with the big Serbian getting his second of the game.
At the end of 90 minutes, Newcastle was winning 2-0 but the Lilywhites refused to give in and unbelievably almost salvaged a point for themselves. In the 90th minute Jermaine Beckford gave his team a glimmer of hope, grabbing a goal for his team.
With the game at 2-1, Preston continued to press and looked for an equalizer. After 8 minutes of injury time (and a coin(?) from the Deepdale crowd hitting DeAndre Yedlin in the head), Preston sub Marnick Vermijl hit the outside of the post just before Chris Kavanagh blew the whistle for full time.
Newcastle really struggled today generating offense especially on through the No. 10 (Diame) and down the left. There were attacks down the right and lots of long balls but there was a lack of link up play.
If Dwight Gayle is healthy next Saturday when Cardiff City visits St. James Park, it will be interesting to see what Benitez will do with the leading scorer in the English Championship (Gayle, 11) and Aleksander Mitrovic, who has scored 4 goals in the last two games. Will he start two strikers up top or will he stay with a midfielder slotted underneath of either Mitrovic or Gayle?
Brighton & Hove Albion clearly look to be the second best team in the Championship after cruising to a 5-0(!) victory against traveling Norwich City. Huddersfield got smashed 5-0(!!) in London against Fulham.
-Howay the Lads!