A decent pre-season run out on a rain sodden pitch in Preston, but Steve Bruce’s opening game in the dugout ended in defeat as the Championship side won 2-1 thanks to two Paul Gallagher penalties.
We started with a 3-5-2 formation in the first half, seeing Aarons and Muto paired up top, Shelvey, Hayden and Matty Longstaff in the middle, Ritchie and Manquillo as attacking wing-backs and a three-man defence of Dummett, Fernandez and Schar, with Woodman in goal.
(3-5-2: Woodman – Schar, Fernandez, Dummett – Manquillo, Hayden, Shelvey, M. Longstaff, Ritchie – Aarons, Muto).
There was very little action in the opening stages, with us seeming content on just keeping the ball without any real purpose in attack, although Matty Longstaff did show real urgency and eagerness to get on the ball in what was his first start for the senior side.
Aarons and Muto struggled to get a hold of the ball and were left a little isolated up top at times, with Preston looking like a side who were just a week away from the new Championship season – and us very much looking like a team that were adapting to a new system and getting back into the swing of things.
Shelvey had our best chance of the first 30 minutes, having a shot blocked from a clever Matt Ritchie cut back:
He then turned provider from the resultant corner, however, swinging in a cross which Isaac Hayden almost converted at the second attempt:
Preston then had a big chance moments later, with the ball falling in the box to Clarke, however Ritchie got a cross with a brilliant last ditch block to deny an almost certain goal.
We upped the tempo considerably over the final 20 minutes of the first half, showing more intensity in attack without creating too much in the final third, but the breakthrough arrives just 5 minutes before the break.
A superb 40-yard run from Fabian Schar ended with him being brought down in a dangerous area and Jonjo Shelvey smashed home the resultant free-kick – albeit via a bit of dodgy goalkeeping from Rudd:
Muto then had a big chance to make it 2-0 moments before the break after being slipped in by Matty Longstaff.
He should’ve done much better, dithering on the ball and failing to set up what would’ve been a tap in for Aarons – a decision that earned him an earful from both Hayden and Aarons soon after:
Bruce then made wholesale changes at half-time, with the following side coming out for the second period (with Woodman and Fernandez being the only two players to stay on):
(3-5-2: Woodman – Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark – Sterry, S. Longstaff, Ki, Colback, Murphy – Almiron, Joelinton)
Joelinton was introduced for his first appearance following his £40m move from Hoffenheim and he made an instant impact.
Just a MINUTE into the second half, Almiron slipped in the Brazilian striker, who turned well and won a penalty with what was his first touch for the club – although a tame effort from the Paraguayan was saved from the resultant spot kick:
It was an awful penalty from Almiron, however he looked very lively in the second half, giving us that spark in attack that we lacked in the first half.
Played in a left wing-back role, Murphy used his pace well at times and caused a few problems, although his decision making and final ball let him down a little at times, while Sean Longstaff picked out some nice passes – including this one:
Preston then won a penalty of their own, and Gallagher converted after Sterry adjudged to have blocked a cross with his hand:
As for Joelinton, the 22-year-old showed some very nice first-time touches and turns, linking well at times and helping build attacks as he drifted into a false number 9 role.
He also showed decent work rate and physicality, tracking back well and holding off his man when receiving the ball with his back to goal.
The Brazilian was growing into the game, but went from provider to offender as he CONCEDED a penalty at the other end – which Paul Gallagher lashed home past Freddie Woodman once again to make it 2-1 with 20 minutes to go:
A huge chance to make it 2-2 then emerged just moments later, with Jack Colback failing to convert after a another brilliant Sean Longstaff through ball put him one on one with Rudd:
Almiron had a half chance late on, but his 25-yard after flew over the bar, seeing the game end with a 2-1 win for Preston.
A disjointed performance that lacked fluidity and quality throughout – a sign that several key signings are still very much needed before the transfer window shuts a week on Thursday.