After the soft penalty at Crewe and help from post and bar it was always likely this game against managerless and hapless Preston would prove a banana skin - and so it proved!
The team selection was an omen of what was to transpire with the excellent and creative O'Kane unlucky to lose his place to keep Matt Ritchie in the side in midfield to accomodate Marcos Painter, the loanee from Brighton to cover the loss of Charlie Daniels. This correspondent had no problen with a specialist left back but felt the attacking 4-4-2 formation with Pugh and Ritchie wide was asking a lot of Arter and MacDonald in midfield with no holding player to protect an unfamiliar back four.
After a hestitant start from Preston, not surprising given their situation, form and league position, they soon realised the top of the league opposition were huffing and puffing with no real threat or cutting edge apart from a couple of Pugh touchline runs and Ritchie winning a free kick. Preston's confidence grew as they outnumbered the Cherries in midfield and started to control and pass the ball with confidence. All over the pitch one to one battles and the second ball were being won by the team in white.
It was no real surprise, but still a shock, when Stuart Beavan rifled a low hard drive from 20 yards past Jalal into the corner of the Cherries goal after 19 mins. Cherries did not respond and with the absence of a holding midfielder, Preston smelt blood and scored a second goal 11 minutes later after sloppy defending in the box allowed Wright to stab home from close range.
Eddie's tactical response was immediate with the unluckly Pugh withdrawn and O'Kane on at last to bolster the midfield. Its turns out Pugh was feeling unwell although it could be argued Eddie knew he had made a mistake with only two in the engine room, especially as MacDonald had only two sub appearances after returning from injury. In any event half-time came quickly with no further action. Preston 2 Cherries 0.
The resumption saw pocket battleship Fogden on for Painter, who looked like a left back should, but was culpable with others for not clearing the ball for the second goal. This meant Cherries were three at the back with Ritchie and Fogden playing wide, O,Kane, Arter and MacDonald in the centre with Pitman and Grabban up front. This would surely test Preston?
Very strangely Cherries lacklustre performance continued and Preston deserved credit for carrying on in the same fashion with solid, determined ball winning and plenty of possession and no little threat. Cherries were simply not at the races with a pudding of a pitch not helping their usual slick passing game.
Eddie made his last throw of the dice shortly afterwards with Tubbs replacing Arter in a three at the back, three up front formation. However, by now Preston had the bit between the teeth and were not going to give up a two goal lead without a fight. Eventually there was a late Cherries flurry to no avail with Pitman heading over and failing to connect with dangerous cross. Full time Preston 2 - Cherries 0.
The match stats show Cherries with 8 attempts on goal, all off target. Not a single shot to test the Preston goalie, which sums up a bad day at the office for the expensively assembled Cherries squad. We can only hope this was merely a blip and with successive home games to come against Blades and Coventry a chance to cement our credentials as genuine promotion candidates. I fear the injuries to Elphick and Daniels may be disruptive at a key stage of the season but we will see. At least we are still top and I can't remember a closer table with 13 games to go and only 4 points separating the top seven!
Man Of The Match? You're having a laugh! Really no-one was outstanding. Grabban kept running but if pressed I will give motm to Cook
for a captains role in a back three for half the game.
AFCB: Jalal, Francis, Painter, Cook, Seabourne, Ritchie, Arter, MacDonald. Pugh, Pitman, Grabban
Subs: Allsop, Fraser, Hughes, McQuoid, O'Kane (for Pugh, 31 mins), Fogden (for Painter, HT), Tubbs (for Arter, 53 mins)
Jack Parker, Didsbury