I groaned when I learned that Bobby bloody Madley was taking charge of the match between Preston North End and Cardiff City at Deepdale. After all, this was the man who had controversially disallowed City goals to consign us to 1-0 defeats in the last two games of ours he’d officiated in.
Therefore, if I were to tell you that supporters were singing “2-1 to the referee” at the end of today’s match, I’m sure the thought is that we’d lost and Madley had “done” us again. Not a bit of it, this time it was City who came out on top and even I, as someone who was advocating that we ask the EFL not to let Madley referee us again after the loss at Blackburn last month, am admitting that we couldn’t have done it without him!
A Madley game wouldn’t be complete without him making some odd decisions and they were therei in plenty today, but for me, he got most of the important decisions right, even, dare I say it, when he denied us a penalty after Karlan Grant went down in the first half (I believe I’m in a minority in thinking that mind)..
Perhaps the referee’s most controversial decision came on the ninety minute mark when the figure 9 was shown on the board indicating how much extra time would be played. After the match, Erol. Bulut was of thev8ew that as much as twelve minutes added time could have been played given all of the time Preston wasted as they tried to hold on to their 1-0 lead – a lead that lasted until the ninety sixth minute!
However, my reaction when I saw what was on the board was one of surprise- I was expecting a five or six to be shown..
Preston had been gifted their lead in the forty eighth minute, but four minutes later, they were down to ten men when Robbie Brady was dismissed for a second yellow card and from then on, it became a case of attack v defence that it looked very much like Preston were going to win until, sensationally, they were rocked by goals in the ninety sixth and ninety ninth minutes.
So, for a few minutes after the final whistle, City had broken into the top six for the third time this season, but, with our midweek opponents West Brom currently 2-0 up against Ipswich, we are going to be seventh when we face them it would seem.
With Preston in fifth place themselves after flying out of the traps by winning six consecutive games very early in the season, this was a notable win for City and although luck smiled on us somewhat today, I’d say we were slightly the better side when it was eleven against eleven and s0 it could be argued that the result was just about right given that almost all of the play was towards the Preston goal in the last half an hour.
There was a surprise in Bulut’s starting eleven as Alex Runnarsson was selected in goal with Jak Alnwick on the bench. There was some message board talk about Alnwick having been ill, but there’s been nothing after the game to suggest this was true. I did see Alnwick being blamed for Norwich’s third and winning goal a fortnight ago and there was the goal he gave away against Watford quite recently, but I’m not sure that’s enough to drop a keeper that I saw rated as the sixth best in the Championship in a You Tube video which measured each club’s expected goals (xg) conced3d figure against actual goals conceded.
Perry Ng was also brought back for Mahlon Romeo after missing the Norwich game and he had to be on his defensive mettle as a Preston side that had come out of the dip they suffered after their excellent start by winning their last two matches, started confidently. City were pushed back in the first ten minutes or so, but then settled down well and Ng was close to his fourth goal of the season when his volley from twelve yards was kept out by a diving Freddie Woodman in the home goal.
Woodman had easier saves to make from Manolis Siopis and Yakou Meite, but might have been facing a penalty when Grant went down under a challenge by Brad Potts – I wasn’t convinced it was a foul and, more importantly, neither was Bobby Madley.
The referee became the centre of attention shortly afterwards when Ched Evans clattered into Jamilu Collins and the full back reacted angrily by thrusting his face towards Evans who fell dramatically to the floor.
Predictably, players came flying in from all directions and it was probably a couple of minutes before order was fully restored. The Preston fans were baying for Collins to be shown a red card, but he and Evans only saw a yellow one waved at them (Collins misses the West Brom game as a result of his fifth booking of the season mind) and the Preston fans got angrier still when they saw that Brady had also been booked (presumably for dissent?).
The set to had the effect of making City less of a goal threat, although Woodman had to hold on to a well struck Callum Robinson shot from the edge of the penalty area and, with Preston only having a couple of efforts by Evans and Lindsay that were easily dealt with by Runnarsson , City could believe they were edging things at the break.
That all changed three minutes after the restart when City had a throw in level with the Preston penalty area and went all of the way back to Mark McGuinness stood just inside his own half. City fans have become used to seeing their defenders playing more considered passes than the long ball stuff they’d been used to seeing for years and, generally speaking, the sort of errors that cost cheap goals we often see from other sides who play the same way have been conspicuous by their absence, but here, McGuinness was robbed by Montenegro international striker Milutin Osmajic who had a clear run in on goal from about forty five yards out on the right touchline.
McGuinness had not been given the best of passes by Collins, but, nevertheless, this was down to the centreback who has been one of our most consistent players so far this season. For his part, Runnarsson had come out to play the sweeper keeper role, but now decided, probably rightly, to sprint back towards his goal, rather than confront Osmajic about thirty yards out. Unfortunately, the Icelandic keeper had lost his bearings somewhat when he turned to face up to Osmajic about ten yards from goal and all he did was present the Preston striker with a much bigger target than he should have done and, as a result, he was beaten very easily.
Four minutes later, Meite was leading a break out from a defensive corner when he was brought down by Brady and so the Republic of Ireland international had to trudge off after a second booking. It wasn’t a bad foul by Brady, but he’d cut across Meite and I’m sure he knew what he was doing – once again, I must say the ref got it right.
So, we now had something like forty minutes with a man advantage to turn the deficit around and forty minutes went by with little sign of an equaliser. Preston deserve a lot of credit for this as they defended superbly with a series of penalty area blocks by defenders willing to put their bodies on the line. For me, City were too laboured with their passing during this phase, but maybe it did have the desired effect of tiring Preston out because the extra last six or seven minutes of playing time they had to face saw the gaps appearing in the home defence where previously there’d been none.
Grant came as close as anyone to an equaliser with a shot which went no more than a foot wide and there was some promise in the way the two young subs Rubin Colwill and Ollie Tanner combined down the right to keep City fans hoping.
Colwill and Tanner combined to force another corner, but the latter’s flag kick looked weak and underhit, like too many other dead ball deliveries from City as the minutes flew by, but it may have been deliberate as Colwill flicked the ball back towards Grant whose shot from ten yards bobbled in at the near post past Woodman and two or three defenders.
What was impressive now from City was the way they chased the win in the three minutes that remained and two more subs combined for the unlikely winner when Ryan Wintle flighted in City’s best cross of the game and Ike Ugbo found the space to guide his header beyond Woodman for what seems like a big win in the context of our season.
The under 18s have been on a winning run in recent weeks and it came to end this lunchtime in a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth in a League Cup tie – no details of scorers I’m afraid.