The Championship – Tuesday 4th December 2007
Where the bloody hell did that come from? Granted – our last two games saw us look a little flat as our winning run came to an end, but as the nature of our reverse at Preston slid from the “disappointing” section of the well-stocked spectrum of Adjectives To Describe City Away Defeats towards the “unacceptable”, perhaps we were forced to conclude that starry-eyed dreams of glory were a trifle premature.
“Trifle” being a euphemism for “ginormously”. But obviously you knew that.
On an unseasonably mild night in deepest darkest Lancashire, Phil Brown showed faith with most of the XI that was held by Cardiff on Saturday, replacing only Deano with Folan as City carded: Myhill; Ricketts, TurnerBrown, Delaney; Garcia, Ashbee, Marney, McPhee; Campbell, Folan.
City began the game kicking away from the 600 or so Tiger Nationals, and had the first half-chance of the evening as a corner was half-cleared to Marney, who characteristically swished the ball several dozen yards over the bar.
It was a scrappy affair, not helped by a swirling wind whipping around the ground, now a three-sided affair after the demolition of the stand to our left – where once a decrepit, unused stand stood we now see wasteland, presumable for another one to rise to complete Deepdale’s steep, boxy design.
City were looking edgy, and nearly surrendered a horrendous goal when Myhill rolled the ball out to Ashbee, who controlled it harder than most players can kick and the ball spun off a lurking Prest 35 yards from goal – fortunately, with the City keeper hopelessly out of position, the ball dribbled wide. A let-off.
Sedgwick then blatted a shot miles over Myhill’s bar after being presented with a great shooting chance a dozen or so yards from goal as City’s defence creaked alarmingly.
However, moments later we nearly took the lead when Folan robbed a homester and burst forward, but his low shot flashed past Lonergan and smacked the near post. Unlucky for one of City’s brighter players.
The game deteriorated further – Ormerod limping off for them to be replaced by Gallagher, Turner cautioned for us for a lumpen challenge on one of theirs. Bitty, unlovely stuff. The referee kindly put the half out of its misery shortly after.
Things improved little immediately after the interval, City looking nothing like the side of recent weeks, Preston looking only slightly better than the side that was probably the worst we’ve seen at the Circle a few weeks earlier.
And on the hour, with 0-0 looking probable, and just, we fell behind in ugly fashion. McPhee sloppily lost the ball on the wing, it was swiftly transferred to the unaccompanied Agyemang, who ambled serenely forwards and planted a fine shot past Myhill. Oh dear.
And our response was frankly pathetic. Heads dropped. Passes fell short. Tackles were shirked. Duties were neglected. We were Preston North End, circa last month.
Phil Brown made a double substitution in a vain attempt to reverse our collapse, withdrawing the luckless Folan and McPhee for Dean and Okocha. And thirty seconds later our manager had legitimate reason to curse his own ill fortune as Campbell pulled up with a hamstring injury that he gamely attempted to play through before inevitably coming off for Livermore.
It made little difference. The home side knew a rare victory was theirs, and our players had seemingly realised it too, particularly when we fell further behind a minute later. A cross was allowed on the City left and Whaley was left unattended to bury the ball past Myhill. Rotten stuff. Twenty minutes remained; mindful of the congested motorways in this part of Lancashire, many made for the exits.
Those who remained, heroically spurning the temptation of returning to Yorkshire, or equally alluring, the bar, looked on in resignation. We carved out a chance when the otherwise poor Okocha sent through our man-of-the-match Garcia, who wastefully wafts his shot wide.
Moments later Windass produced a knackered-looking airshot at a decent shooting opportunity, and followed it up moments later by thumping a shot well wide from 20 yards.
Not that this should have be construed as a meaningful fightback. Preston always looked approximately one trillion times more threatening, and with the game almost over another cross and another unmarked White made it 3-0. Dire.
What to say? This was every bit as poor as we’ve seen all season, and indeed at any point since our return to the Old Second Division. Not necessarily the football; even teams at the top of the table play can play poorly. What rankles is the lack of heart, the absence of belief that we can rescue a game despite knowing only too well we were hardly playing Real Madrid.
Poor performances littered the pitch. Myhill was uncertain and made poor decisions. Both full-backs (though particularly Delaney) were slothful in preventing crosses. Brown had probably his worst game for City; Turner too had an off day. The captain need not detain us too long, we already know he is not good enough at this level. Marney looked tired and had his worst match for some weeks. McPhee offered little; Garcia was our best player by a distance probably visible from space, and can still consider himself to have played averagely at best. The forwards tried, but did little what the scraps they were offered. And Mr Brown? A few questionable selections, although in mitigation a manager should show loyalty to his players, and he is. But it appeared that things needed changing a little, and this sadly wasn’t forthcoming.
Saturday takes us to Southampton, a daunting trek for those unfortunate enough to be at Deepdale. Livermore for Ashbee; Hughes for McPhee; Folan for Deano; a new left-back in January please, Mr Brown. Ta. And we’ll put this dismal evening as just one of those days. (AD)