The result - and the draw in and end to end game was fair, ended all mathematical chances of making the play-offs in a game most City fans saw as an end of season reason friendly and a reason to party.
1,200 City fans made the 500 mile round trip, around a third of us - yours truly included - staying in the ‘Jewel of the North’ - Blackpool for a weekend of pillaging and debauchery. At least some may have, I ended up sharing a bed with my brother for the first time since we were kids after being locked out of the B&B until 4:30am.
Our journey up was unbelievably quick. Left Cardiff 7:30am, in Blackpool well before opening time on a glorious April sunny day, temperatures climbing to near 70 degrees and clear roads from end to end. If only it were always like this.
Breakfast downed, we hit out first pub full of Barnsley fans, pool tables and a full blown strip show taking place at 2pm, it was tough to leave all that behind to head to Preston. We caught the train there from Blackpool as history repeated. Arriving at Preston, our platform was empty but the opposite platform and surrounding area was packed with police, dogs and assorted other equipment to welcome City fans coming straight up from South Wales. Found a couple of decent pubs including a Celtic one by the station that became packed with 20 girls on a hen weekend going to watch the game (in the City end) as part of their festivities and another nearer the town that was rocking with City fans in boisterous mood and singing for the country. So good, we would have won Eurovision ... now I am getting carried away.
Deepdale is a 45 minute walk from the station but we hopped on a taxi to be greeted by another 200 police outside the away end all geared up? What exactly were they expecting? As with all other police forces this season, they found us high in spirits (literally!) so soon relaxed and joined in with the banter.
The ground itself is superb and a great example of how to develop an older stadium. Last time we played there, three years ago this month, it was half complete, now it is three-quarters done. They were advantaged by being out of town and not really land-locked on any side. As one of the founder football club, they’ve been helped with funding too and the building of the National Football Museum outside.
Its design is traditional but modern, four rectangular stands with corners open and huge, imposing floodlights. Only the side to our right is to be complete, it terraces closed down with a shoebox old stand set thirty yards behind which is still occupied. It offered excellent views, the atmosphere was near carnival too from both sets of fans. City’s in full voice with a drummer for home fans sharing our stand who seemed to join in with our chants.
Despite all the pre-match blurb, there were no Craig Brown Out protests or chants from the home fans disillusion with Preston’s freefall from play-off hopeful to nobodies in the 2nd half of the season, a shame really because I was looking forward to joining in with that. Craig Brown himself took two pages in the programme “not making excuses” according to him but then filling it with every excuse going for his side taking only 8 points in 10 games and 2 wins in their last 14 league outings. They also inexplicably lost to mid-table Third Division no-hopers Swansea City (anyone remember them?) in the F.A. Cup.
Apparently it was all down to bad luck, bad decisions, injuries and, last week’s 5-1 hammering by Derby was the first time it was due to bad play and bad attitude. None of it was due to bad management, tactics or decisions then. Reading his notes, I was beginning to feel sorry for the beleaguered Brown until I realised he actually has 10 more players to choose from than Lennie and having inured players is therefore hardly the greatest excuse - we’ve been missing the likes of Kav, Parry, Thorne, Weston and ... erm ... Prior(!).
Brown’s line up for this game were Gould, Alexander-Lucketti-Jackson-Broomes, Lewis-Ehtuttu-Healy-Fuller, Cresswell-McKenna. Gould, of course, was the son of Bobby. Broomes didn’t play sweeper, Michael Jackson and Paul McKenna gave them a celebrity quota, Lucketti and Healy were the compulsory “one-time City targets” that every team seem to field against us but the threats were Ricardo Fuller and Eddie Lewis. Fuller has lost some form like his team but he one of the class acts in this division whilst Lewis. the American, returned from injury to finally give the Lillywhites a genuine left-footer.
Lennie hinted at squad rotation and did exactly that. However he never gave any youngsters a chance, just more of the same players we've seen before and from whom nothing much can be learned that we don’t already know. There were four changes with Weston returning at right back for his first game in two months (Croft making way to the bench which was not popular with fans there), Barker called up in place of the suspended Tony Vidmar, Bullock given a start in midfield and Andy Campbell selected in attack with Earnie dropped to the bench.
The Earnie change was highly predictable but still the biggest shock but a bigger shock was to later emerge with Whalley dropped out altogether as one more game for him this season would allegedly trigger a £50k bonus payment, a similar situation to what happened with Mark Bonner a few weeks ago before his transfer.
It therefore seems obvious that out-of-contract Whalley will leave the club this summer and whilst you can understand both points of view, it is still poor man management by the club and something that sends out the wrong message. After the game, Lennie delighted in Bullock’s pretty anonymous game and declared that he will play the rest of the season. In manager speak, perhaps what he really means is “I haven’t got anyone else and he won’t cost me”. It is a decision that seems to be for finance perhaps more than football reasons and really makes you wonder.
Lennie’s line-up was therefore Margetson, Weston-Collins-Gabbidon-Barker, Langley-Bullock-Boland-Robinson, Lee-Campbell. Gabbidon was Captain for the day. The subs incidentally were Earnie-Croft-Parry-Gordon-Alexander. The Scots goalkeeper dropped last week, subject of transfer speculation and reported comments that Lennie is unhappy with his attitude during the week had somehow returned to the bench. Perhaps City drove him up there to get him home to Scotland for cheaper too?!?!?
On a glorious afternoon, temperatures touching 70 degrees, the game started as brightly as fans watched a thoroughly entertaining encounter which swung back and fore. Langley who has finally found confidence and settled in recent times was clearly City’s best player, only Margetson’s goalkeeping heroics got near him, had a strong game from start to finish. His confidence shown by testing Gould from 25 yards in the opening seconds.
Preston’s play looked sharper and more incisive in the final third as City created great chances but messed them up but with Weston and Barker looking ropey throughout, the home side were able to exploit us too.
Andy Campbell, if he ever replaces Earnie (and with respect to Andy, I hope not) will, I feel, frustrate more than delight us. Blessed with fantastic pace but more clumsy than most players, you have to take the rough with the smooth. A perfect example came on 10 minutes when Alan Lee produced his trademark rampaging run down the channel, turning and leaving Broomes and delivering a perfect cross which Campbell only needed to touch home but somehow missed altogether.
Lee himself was no better when a sitter was delivered on a plate to him later in the half. Good work by Bullock and an excellent cross beat defenders and dropped invitingly for Lee who must have misjudged the flight of the ball as he launched into a diving header virtually meeting the ball as it touched the ground and therefore rolling the ball to Gould. If he stood up and stuck his foot out, it could only have been a goal.
A third clear cut chance and perhaps the worst miss came from Danny Gabbidon who, as the ball fell to him, from 4 yards at the far post after being flicked on at a corner somehow shot over the bar when it was easier to hit the target. Langley therefore was the closest as Campbell and Robbo linked up, Campbell shot across goal, Langley got a flick to it, Gould was beaten but the ball was cleared off the line.
However Preston lead 1-0 at the interval and, despite those missed chances, probably just about deserved it. Their football, pretty and effective with Fuller causing all sorts of problems, was troubling City throughout and they spent much of the opening period playing deep in the City half.
Margetson had to make three or four first half saves although none caused particular trouble, watch other efforts fly left, right and over his goal and was beaten twice but saved by his post on once occasion.
The goal came on 15 minutes as City seemed to lose the ball thirty yards out in front of goal, a quick pass was knocked behind Weston who was caught out in no man’s land and EDDIE LEWIS showed no mercy as he hammered his shot across goal beating Margetson’s despairing dive. It was Lewis who later beat Margetson too, his fine shot just before the interval unluckily for him smacking off the upright with Margy helpless.
A good first-half of football but which left City with a task to achieve for the first time this season. In the previous 43 games, City had only trailed at half-time on 6 occasions but had lost the lot. Along with Stoke, the worst record for 2nd half comebacks. Today was to be different.
Half-time: PNE 1 CITY 0
The opening minutes of the second half were the most dramatic all season as City went from total despair to absolute delight.
The despair came within the opening action of the period as City inexplicably went to sleep and conceded just 18 seconds after the restart. PAUL McKENNA, living up to his name, seemed to hypnotise the entire City side as he collected the ball in the centre circle and did nothing more complex than run straight towards goal ... and on ... and on ... and on. No player moved towards him, City’s defence parted more than Jordan’s legs until McKenna, without seeing a challenge suddenly saw goal. His shot was emphatic, hard and low into the bottom right corner. Great finish but an absolute stinker to concede.
On 51 minutes, City however were back in it with a goal that mysteriously, that didn’t realise they had scored until 52 minutes! ANDY CAMPBELL took the ball 25 yards out, had his back to goal but made space, turned and hit a none too special shot high and straight at Gould. At the opposite end of the ground to where we were, Bobby’s Boy tipped it up in the air and over the bar for a corner ... or so it seemed until perhaps 30 seconds or so later, Campbell started jumping up and down and flapping his arms wildly. Gould had simply succeeded in making a right Ghoul-ash and had simply pushed the ball in the air, behind him and it dropped into his goal.
Four minutes later and less than 10 minutes into the half, City were unbelievably level and with a right cracker too. A corner won, Langley pinged the ball with venom across goal where GABBIDON met it and planted a bullet header home for 5 yards at the far post.
Mayhem and joy in the City stand and, I have to now confess, delirium for those of us - and we’re talking about 300 fans! - underneath it who had missed all the second half action. Unlike most grounds Preston keep their half-time bars open until 10 minutes into the 2nd half.
As they made it 2-0 in the opening exchanges, it seemed a reasonable assumption that the game was beyond this City side and it seemed commonsense to enjoy one more beer, it would be rude not to after all. We didn’t even hear the noise when City scored, it was only others running underneath and updates on Sky tv that confirmed it. At 2-2, we dashed back to see the rest but had missed all the real action. Only be City fans could, some were in such a state that they may still think we lost 1-0!
The action was still swinging but Margetson was the busier keeper and produced some astonishing saves, none more than when he brilliantly pushed away a Cresswell volley and blocked Lewis’ follow up screamer heading for his top corner. Before the game finished, he also made great stops from Fuller and Lucketti, the latter player also seeing a header graze the crossbar.
For City, Langley’s all round brilliance - his set piece and corner kicks full of variation and invention (please don’t let Kav take them when he’s back) - was almost rounded off with a fantastic goal as he coolly chipped Gould from 25 yards but the keeper who recommended Alexander to us atoned by back-tracking and this time managing to just tip over.
City made late changes with Parry replacing the excellent Langers and Earnie was given four minutes for Robbo who brought a flying second half stop from Gould. City were desperately close to winning in added time as Lee took the ball, controlled, and hit a low volley that whistled inches outside of the right-hand post with Gould looking on helpless.
Overall, good game, great occasion and the right result despite both managers making claims why their teams should have won. City stayed 11th and 3 points behind those above them and 4 points ahead of those below, it looks as if that is where we will finish too. Preston stayed in 14th, the lowest position we can finish but they’re 5 points behind with 2 to go.
That only left an outing in Blackpool - thanks to the RAMS coach for taking us back - a 50 seater with 150 on board it seemed!. The Las Vegas of the North gets tackier and tackier. Fantastic then! A good way to round the weekend and season. The less said about some of the bars, lap and strip clubs, hen parties, the highly dubious quality of the female species (we can't all be good looking and fit like me, I guess!), Kiss Me Quick hates and being locked out of my B&B until 5am, then the better really!
Report from FootyMad
Preston North End threw away a two-goal lead to allow Cardiff to share the honours on a sunny afternoon watched by 11,972.
The Lilywhites have had a poor run in 2004 with only one win in 11 games and they have now got the same number of points as this time last season and have won 15, drawn 13, and lost 16, exactly the same as last season with minus one the same goal difference.
North End welcomed back Eddie Lewis, the USA international following his hernia operation and he had a left-foot shot after ten minutes saved by the Cardiff keeper after a Ricardo Fuller pass.
It was Lewis who made it 1-0 after 15 minutes when Graham Alexander from the edge of the box found Fuller and he played a right-foot pass from the mid penalty area to Lewis, who hit a left-foot 12-yard shot hard and low into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
It was his sixth goal of the season and he also scored in his last game at Sunderland.
Jamaican international Fuller had a 20-yard right-foot shot which missed the left-hand post by inches after 36 minutes and Lewis had a left-foot shot from the left which hit the left-hand post.
Eighteen seconds into the second half Paul McKenna ran half the length of the pitch and from the left channel hit a 25-yard right-foot shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to make it 2-0, his fifth goal of the season.
Andy Campbell hit a 25-yard shot and Jonathan Gould seemed to tip the ball up in the air, but the ball went up over his head and into the top right-hand corner of the net to make it 2-1.
It was 2-2 when Richard Langley hit a right-wing corner over and Danny Gabbidon added a six-yard diving header into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Chris Lucketti hit the bar with a header, but a draw was a fair result.