Preston North End

Preston North End vs Birmingham City, Skybet Championship, 14/02/17, Deepdale

Valentine’s Day, a day set aside to show your loved ones how much you love them, and a chance to shower them in gifts that they don’t need and won’t use, a corporate holiday where card manufacturers rub their hands together in glee. As you can probably tell I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day, I’ve never really seen the point, I mean if the person you love doesn’t know that you love them for the other 364 days of the year, what’s the point of just demonstrating it in one day? Luckily I have an understanding wife, who feels the same way I do about Valentine’s Day. Also she understands how I feel about football, and when the chance came to go and watch Birmingham City at Preston North End, I couldn’t turn it down.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but my mum’s side of the family are Birmingham City fans, with the biggest fan being my Uncle Ed, the same uncle that went to Bradford City with me earlier this season. We share a love of groundhopping, and real ale, so when he text me to ask if I fancied attending a blue’s match, I quickly responded to say that I would. Unfortunately I had to work, but my work allowed me to move my shift, so instead of working 2pm to 9pm, I worked 10am to 5pm, which meant that I would have enough time for a pint or two before the game. Once I had finished work I headed out and met my Uncle at the Old Vic near Preston Station. My uncle had been in Preston since 1pm, and had already been to a number of pubs, but he still had his list of pubs he wanted to try, and after a quick pint in the Old Vic, we headed down to the Ale Emporium, a great little pub. After meeting a couple of my Uncle’s mates we headed down to the Moorbrook where we got chatting to a couple of Preston fans. With pints (I can’t remember what I drank as I told my uncle just to order me the same as we was having, and to be fair I didn’t pay attention to the names, but they were good) consumed and kick off approaching we headed along to Deepdale.

It surprised me to find Deepdale surrounded by houses, but I think I’ve become use to Football League grounds being out of the way. I was slightly shocked to separate with £3 for a programme, but in all fairness it was a good read, whilst waiting for my Uncle to count out his change for his programme, I purchased a 50/50 draw ticket for a £1, however I’ve no idea if I won as I didn’t hear the winning number announced. The Sir Tom Finney statue was a great sight, and in a way is probably the best statue I’ve seen at a football ground. We quickly located the away end, and headed inside. Before heading up to our seats, I purchased a Meat & Potato pie for £2.80, and I’m confused as to where they store their pies, as this thing was practically on fire, it felt like eating lava, however once it cooled down it was an alright pie.

I’ve read a lot about Deepdale, mainly through Simon Inglis’ books, and was impressed by what I saw inside. The floodlights and roof details are a work of art in my opinion, and I was slightly disappointed not to have gotten into the ground earlier as Preston have worked portraits of legendary players into the seats, however those seats were occupied. Deepdale is unifom in a way, with both stands behind the goals being practically symmetrical, I say practically symmetrical as the away end has a scoreboard hanging from the roof. Along the touchline to the right of the away end, stands a large seater stand, which is the largest stand in the ground. On the other touchline, are the dugouts, and the most recently built stand in the ground, with the Invincibles Pavillion being finished in 2008, although it doesn’t appear to be finished as above the corporate boxes seems to be an unfinished area, which I would assume was meant to be further corporate boxes. Deepdale has a capacity of 23,404 and used to house the National Football Museum, however the museum closed and relocated in 2010.

Preston North End began life in 1863, originally as a cricket club, and leased Deepdale in 1875. The cricket club adopted the rugby union code in 1877, however one year later they played their first game under the rules of association football and in 1880 unanimously passed a resolution to adopt the association code, and founded Preston North End Football Club. PNE were famously successful during the early years of professional football in England, and in 1887 they beat Hyde 26-0 in the First Round of the FA Cup, which is still a record winning margin in English first-class football. PNE were the first league champions and first winners of the double, in the 1888 to 1889 season, and became the only team to go an entire season unbeaten in both the league and the FA Cup, earning them the nickname the Invincibles. Preston were league champions again the following season, but have not won the title since. With their last major trophy win being their FA Cup win in 1938. Sir Tom Finney holds the record of being PNE’s top goalscorer with 187 goals from 433 appearances between 1946 and 1960. Following Finney’s retirement in 1961, PNE were relegated to the Second Division and have not played top division football since. Preston fell further down the pyramid in 1970 as they were relegated to the Third Division, however they won promotion back at the first attempt. PNE went through a period of decline during the 70s and 80s and in 1985 were relegated to the Fourth Division, PNE were lucky the following season as they only avoided relegation to the Conference via re-election. John McGrath oversaw their promotion back to the Third Division a year later, where they remained when John Beck took over in October 1992, however Beck was unable to save Preston from relegation, and was soon replaced by Gary Peters, Peters won the Division Three title in his first season as manager, but quit in February 1998, and was replaced by former Shrewsbury Town defender David Moyes. Moyes turned PNE into promotion contenders, and in the 1999 to 2000 season, PNE won promotion to Division One, and were close to gaining promotion to the Premier League, but were beaten by Bolton in the 2001 Play Off Final. Moyes soon left for Everton, and after a ten year spell in the second tier and a number of unsuccessful managers, the club were relegated to League One, however the arrival of Simon Grayson in February 2013 saw an up-turn in their fortunes. Preston were promoted back to the Championship in 2015 following a 4-0 play off final win over Swindon Town. Preston came into this match, sat in 11th place in the league, five points above 12th placed Birmingham, and one point behind 10th placed Barnsley, Preston have won one, drawn three and lost one in their last five matches.

Small Heath Alliance were formed in 1875, and turned professional in 1885, becoming the first club to become a limited company with a board of directors in 1888. From the 1889 to 1890 season they played in the Football Alliance, and in 1892 they were invited to join the newly formed Football League Second Division. In their second season the club were promoted to the First Division, and adopted the name Birmingham Football Club in 1905, and moved to St Andrew’s the following year. However on the field they failed to live up to their new surroundings and were relegated in 1908, and remained in the Second Division until after WW1. In 1921 the club won the Division Two title, and in 1931 reached their first FA Cup final, which they lost 2-1 to West Brom. Birmingham remained in the top-fight for 18 seasons, but were eventually relegated in 1939, the last full season before the Football League ceased for the duration on the Second World War. The name Birmingham City was adopted in 1943, with the club winning the Football League South wartime league in 1946. City were to win their third Second Division title in 1949, conceding only 24 goals in the 42 game season. However relegation soon followed in 1950, where the club remained until 1955, when they won the Second Division title for the fourth time. City were the first English club side to take part in European Competition when they played their first group game in the Inter-Cities Fair Cup on the 15th May 1956, they went on to reach the semifinal where they drew with Barcelona 4-4 on aggregate before losing the replay 2-1. Birmingham were to lift their first major trophy in 1963, as they beat local rivals Aston Villa 3-1 on aggregate in the League Cup, however after spending ten years in the top flight, City returned to the Second Division in 1965. City have spent a large part of their history as a yo-yo club going between the Second Division and the First Division, and in 1989 with the club in financial difficulties they dropped to the Third Division for the first time in their history. In April 1989 the club were bought by the Kumar Brothers, and a rapid turnover of managers, the absence of promised investment and a threatened mass refusal of players to renew contracts was endured until the Kumars went bust, and the club was bought by David Sullivan for £700,000, he then installed 23 year old Karren Brady as managing director. In the 1993 to 1994 season Terry Cooper was replaced by Barry Fry, and Fry was unable to stop City from being relegated back to the third tier (City had been promoted to the second tier under the Kumars), however Fry took the club back to the second tier as champions, however City were to remain in the second tier under Trevor Francis until Steve Bruce took over in October 2001, where he took a mid-table side and turned them into play-off winners, earning promotion to the Premier League. City remained in the Premier League until 2008, following the departure of Steve Bruce, and the arrival of Carson Yeung as majority shareholder. However Alex McLeish delivered immediate promotion back to the Premier League, where they remained until 2011, when they were relegated back to the Championship, however the club did win the League Cup, beating Arsenal 2-1 in the final. City have remained in the Championship ever since, with the club experiencing financial turmoil stemming from Carson Yeung being jailed, for being a crook. Things seem to have stabilized for City now, however recently they have replaced Gary Rowett with a certain Gianfranco Zola. Coming into this match, City sat in 12th five points behind Preston, and a point above 13th placed Ipswich, City have won one, drawn one and lost three of their last five games.

As is fast becoming tradition, when watching games with my Uncle Ed, we took our seats after kick off, and just in time to watch Callum Robinson, who found himself completely unmarked in the area, head home to give Preston the lead in the 8th minute.

In all fairness I struggled to work out the formation that City were playing, and it wasn’t until one of the lads behind me asked his mate how he thought the 4-1-3-2 formation was working that it clicked. City didn’t look organized and at times it was like watching headless chickens, however when City did organize themselves they looked dangerous.

Preston on the other hand, were strong and organized from the start, and had a couple of chances to extend their lead, which they didn’t take. A couple of times Preston ripped through the fragile looking City defense, and could have extended their lead.

Half Time: Preston North End 1-0 Birmingham City (Robinson 8)

With City losing at the break, we headed down to the concourse to watch the other half time results, my internet on my phone hadn’t been the greatest, and I had no idea of the Shrewsbury or Chorley scores, and I was pleasantly surprised to see both teams winning at the break. The other thing I noticed was how many people knew my Uncle, or Sid as they called him (his surname being Sidwell), I had known that my Uncle had made a number of friends who all shared the same love of City, but had never been to a City match with him before, and I lost count of the number of fans I was introduced to. City made a change at the break with Kerim Frei Koyunlu being replaced by Josh Dacres-Cogley.

Whatever Zola said to his players at half time had clearly worked, as we had barely taken our place back in the stand, when Che Adams equalized with a minute gone of the second half, Adams struck a fierce, bouncing shot, which sent the Blues’ fans into raptures, and it began to look like City would get something out of the game.

City now looked like an organized side and they began to pen Preston back, however Preston still looked like a dangerous force when they went forward.

North End made their first change of the game in the 63rd minute with scorer Callum Robinson being replaced by Tom Barkhuizen.

Despite City’s threat going forward, they were unable to turn it into anything of note, and it was Preston who scored next, with Jordan Hugill tapping home from Daryl Horgan’s square ball in the 78th minute.

Frustratingly, City’s captain Craig Gardner was booked for the second time in the 80th minute for a rash challenge, which saw him receive a red card, and leave City with an even bigger hill to climb.

City made another change in the 83rd minute with Greg Stewart replacing Cheick Keita, and in the 85th minute North End made their second sub, with Aiden McGeady being replaced by Daniel Johnson.

Chasing the game and a man down, City made their final change in the 89th minute with Stephen Gleeson making way for Jerome Sinclair. However it was clear to see that City had lost their bite going forward, and it became a matter of Preston seeing out the game. Again Preston replaced their goal scorer, with Jordan Hugill making way in the 94th minute for Simon Makienok.

Final Score: Preston North End 2-1 Birmingham City (Robinson 8, Hugill 78 – Adams 46)

Upon the final whistle we headed back down to the concourse, and a disappointing evening was made even more disappointing when I found that Shrewsbury had lost 2-1 and Chorley had lost 3-1. With those results confirmed we made our way back towards Preston Rail Station, a walk which was made worse as we somehow took the long way road. Fortunately there was still time for a quick drink in the Black Horse, a pub my Uncle had raved about, and upon entering I could see why, I’m not going to try and describe the pub here, I’m simply going to say that if you ever find yourself in Preston head to the Black Horse for a drink. After a quick drink we headed back to the Rail Station where we found that all trains had been replaced by Rail Replacement Buses.

A win for Preston sees them climb up to 10th in the league, and they are now only seven points below the play-off places, and I’m sure that North End fans will be hoping that they’ll get into the play-off spots to give themselves that chance at gracing the Premier League.

Defeat for Birmingham sees them slip to 14th, a further eight points off of Preston, meaning that they are now fifteen points off of the play-off places. City need to find some kind of form quickly, or this could amount to another disappointing season, although I believe Zola could turn this around yet.

With my first Birmingham match now ticked off, I’m looking to get down to St Andrews to take in a City home match, who knows when that’ll be though, as if there is one thing that groundhopping has taught me it’s not to make plans too far in advance!

Attendance: 10,233 (614 City)

Cost: £6.80 spent in the ground, £24 for the ticket, and a good amount on ale

Movember Total: £15 (£1.50 from today’s game)

Hat-tricks seen so far: 0

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/139632000@N07/albums/72157676814549764

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