Preston North End were unable to cause a shock upset in the third round of the Carabao Cup under the lights at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with the competition’s defending champions Manchester City managing to secure what turned out to be a routine 3-0 win.
The Lilywhites, pushed on by their home supporters, made an encouraging start to the game, as Alex Neil’s side worked hard to close down Manchester City players when in possession and attempted to halt them getting into their usual passing rhythm.
However, eventually Manchester City’s quality showed and they were able to have the game all but wrapped up by half time, with Pep Guardiola’s side managing to get themselves into a 3-0 lead with goals from Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and an unfortunate own goal from Preston’s Ryan Ledson, who turned David Silva’s cross into his own net.
The defeat perhaps brings Preston slightly back down to earth after a promising recent run in the Championship, which has seen the Lilywhites record back to back league wins to lift themselves up to third place in the table, but Neil’s side can take some encouragement from parts of their performance against the Premier League champions at Deepdale.
One such positive was the performance of striker David Nugent, who emerged from the bench in the 63rd minute replacing Tom Barkhuizen to a warm reception from all of Preston’s supporters inside Deepedale to mark the 34-year-old finally making his much anticipated second debut for the club.
Nugent, who re-joined North End in the summer following his release from fellow Championship side Derby County, has had to wait for his opportunity to get back playing in a Preston shirt, with the one-time England international suffering frustrations with a calf injury picked up in a behind closed doors game against Salford City at Preston’s training ground.
However, the striker, who registered 33 goals in 94 appearances in his first spell at Deepdale between 2005 and 2007, was fit enough to be included in Neil’s sides squad for the first time this campaign for Preston’s clash against Manchester City on Tuesday.
The 34-year-old demonstrated the qualities that he will add to Preston’s forward options in the final half an hour of the game, with Nugent’s experience enabling him to hold the ball up and help get the Lilywhites’ further up the pitch when they managed to win back possession, as they looked to find a very unlikely route back into the game.
Nugent’s experience will be a vital option for Neil to call upon throughout the rest of the season, with Preston’s other attacking options all relatively youthful by comparison and the likes of Barkhuizen, Josh Harrop, Sean Maguire, Billy Bodin and Louis Moult, when he returns to fitness, can all benefit greatly from the knowledge that the striker has gained throughout his career.
The striker, though, will not have been wanting to be just a player to have around the squad when he re-signed for Preston in the summer, Nugent would have been targeting as much playing time as possible as he enters the last few seasons of his professional career, and he showed some promising signs that he could potentially command a starting place when he is fully fit.
It will be interesting to see how Neil manages his forward options now that Nugent is fit and able to make an impact, it is likely that the 34-year-old will be initially used as an option from the bench to help provide an extra threat to opposition defences when the Lilywhites are either looking to see out a lead, or even look for a route back into a game.
Nugent definitely demonstrated that he still has plenty to offer and that he will be a very valuable option to have from the bench in the next few matches, as the Lilywhites look to cement themselves in the Championship’s top six after a bright start to the campaign.