Preston North End took a big step in the battle for promotion to the Premier League on Wednesday night, as they beat Stoke City 2-0 at the Bet365 Stadium.
After a goalless opening 45 minutes, second-half strikes from Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen were enough to secure all three-point for Preston in the Potteries.
While North End stay sixth in the Championship standings following that win, they have now closed the gap to the automatic promotion places to just three points, with 14 games of the season remaining.
That is something that ought to give those around the club plenty of encouragement going forward, and here, we look at three things we learnt about Preston from that latest win.
They are getting results away from home at just the right time
While Preston’s home form continues to be the best in the league this season, they have not been quite as effective during their time on the road in the current campaign, or at least not until recently.
That win at Stoke on Wednesday was their third away win in a row – following victories at two other struggling sides in the shape of Barnsley and Wigan – with those three victories accounting for nine of the 20 points they have picked up away from home this season – almost half.
With Wigan having come off the back of two big wins going into their defeat to Preston, and Stoke looking increasingly dangerous under Michael O’Neill, the fact that Alex Neil’s side have been able to grind out these wins is particularly impressive, and with every point set to be crucial between now and the end of the campaign, the rediscovery of that ability to take wins on the road could perhaps not have come at a better time.
Goalscoring responsibilities continue to be shared
Victory over Stoke means North End are now unbeaten in their last six games home and away, scoring 11 goals in that time, with Browne’s effort against Stoke making him the sixth player to contribute to that goals tally.
What is interesting about those goalscorers, is that none of them would be considered an out and out centre forward, with Browne joining Tom Barkhuizen (who has three goals in this run following his strike at the Bet 365), Daniel Johnson and Josh Harrop (both with two in this sequence), Scott Sinclair and Patrick Bauer in getting on the scoresheet in that run.
With the exception of holding midfielder Browne and centre back Bauer, the rest of those players have generally be used in either a number ten position, or a role on the wings this season, and if they continue to share the goalscoring responsibilities between them, the concerns about the lack of a goalscoring forward that emerged at the end of each transfer window, are unlikely to arise again anytime soon.
Can you remember Preston’s top goalscorer from each of the past 15 seasons? Find out here:
They showed their ability from set-pieces at both ends of the pitch
What was particularly impressive about Preston on Wednesday, was their ability when both causing threats, and dealing with them, in either penalty area.
Going forward, both of North End’s goals came from set-pieces, with those in Preston shirts the first ones to win balls into the air from deliveries into the box, before the likes of Browne and Barkhuizen showed the awareness and ruthlessness to get to those loose balls first and fire in two crucial goals.
It was a similar story in their own penalty area as well, with Ben Davies in particular impressing with a standout performance that saw him consistently win and clear those deliveries into the North End area.
If they can continue to control proceedings at both ends of the pitch in such a way for the remainder of the season, any team is going to find it hard to take points of Preston in the next few months, putting them in a strong position to maintain that push for promotion through all the way to May.