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Merry Xmas Mr Lawrence

By: Miles Moss
Date: 25/12/2000

Some three seasons ago, Pete Conboy and I went to Preston, and saw Town lose horribly. Pete's match report to the list was entitled "PNE - bigger, faster, stronger". Yesterday, the two of us were at Deepdale again, this time accompanied by Sarah Barber and my Norwich-supporting mate Greig.

After a mere thirty seconds of the match, it looked like a very similar subject header was going to be needed. Preston kicked off, and immediately surged forward, heading straight for the opposition goal. Imagine that! Town were not expecting this, apparently, and watched in wonder as the ball approached their own penalty area. Some hacking ensued, the Mariners defence looked in disarray, and the ball fell to MACKEN, who promptly smashed it past the despairing Danny Coyne. Much, much less than a minute gone, and we were 1-0 down. During the next 15 minutes, the same thing almost happened, ooh, another 4 or 5 times. Feasibly, we could have been 4-0 down within the first quarter-hour. Grimsby's back four of Butterfield, Fostervold, Zhang and Groves looked as if they had never played together before, and is if there were 3 different languages between the four of them... Coyne did a passable impression of Peter Schmeichel at his most verbose, and we wished we had stayed in the pub. However, the tide began to change... At around the 17-minute mark, the Town players seemed to realise that attack was their best form of defence. There was no point sitting back and defending, playing for the away draw - especially since they were losing. Ahem. Unbelievably, Preston found themselves having to defend against Campbell's direct runs, the accurate passing of Willems and Burnett (or Burrrrrrrrrrrn-it as the Lancashire tannoy-man has it... or 'Wayne Armstrong' as the programme bizarrely stated - that's some typo...), and a few sporadic mazy runs from Mr Donovan. It was a about the half-hour mark that Kevin made one of his jinky forays, and was felled just outside the corner of the 18-yard box. I don't get excited about set pieces, having seen many awful ones over the past five years, but I was forgetting about Menno... about three minutes previously, he had blasted a free kick goalwards from the left, which had taken the slightest of deflections and whistled over the bar. And now again, but this time from the right-hand side of the box, it was WILLEMS who ran gently at the ball, and struck it with the force of a super-hero. Is it a defender? Is it a midfielder? No! It's Freekickman! Menno Willems has a bionic leg - the ball screamed along the turf through the mass of players and was in the back of the net before the Preston keeper's dive had come to its gravitational conclusion. We went wild, and Preston - players and fans alike, started to get ratty... The aforementioned rattiness was most definitely a factor in Preston's defeat. For the last 15 minutes of the first half, the offside decisions against them increased. And there had been around one every two minutes already - the linesman was our mate! Had I been David Moyes, I might have suggested to my players at half time that they should ignore the decisions of the officials, whether they were right or wrong, and just get on with the game. But once Town equalised, they seemed to take every blow of the whistle, and every wave of the flag personally. They were in the wrong frame of mind to play football, and this was to cost them dearly. David Moyes is patently not me, and it seemed from the body language of the Preston players, that they started the second half feeling 'robbed' already. Their attacks broke down, they grumbled at each other, and their 14,000 friends in the seats around them were pretty much silent. In the away section, however, it was a different story - I have not heard such a long-lasting string of chants and songs since Wembley - most impressive. The second half kicked off with no changes in the Town side, except for the subtle change that the four defenders had by now introduced themselves to each other and were playing much more as a cohesive unit. Just as well, too. As far as the second half goes, I cannot remember any specific incidents (I'm not Tony - I'm not good at that sort of thing) but I enjoyed it. Town had begun to play well as a team from back to front, and they were playing against a team who had mentally lost it already. Even so, I never expected what was to come. Town got a corner, diagonally opposite our seats. I'm still a non-believer when it comes to corners. In my head I'm signing "we never score from a corner..." and am imagining the ball looping gently into the keeper's hands... and as I'm doing this, Willems whips (and I mean 'whips') a vicious ball into the area, where GROVES does what he always did best - rose above the others, and nuts the ball home for a winner. Ecstasy ensued in the away end, and all of it the legal kind. Preston were down and out - they tried a few things in the final 10 minutes, but it wasn't their day, none of it worked. Earlier in the half, a scramble on our goal line saw a defender hoof the ball, Coyne flap at it, the ball hit the bar and bounce on the line, and Coyne finally swat it away for a corner. Heart-in-mouth time, but typical of Preston's day. They may as well have given us the 3 points then. As it was, they waited until the 81st minute, but they could have saved themselves a lot of anguish. During the last 10, Livvo came on for Burnett, and Jeffrey for Nielsen - both swaps looking like fresh-legs substitutions more than anything, although I seem to remember Jeffrey nearly scoring with almost his first touch. In any sort of order chronological, this report is not. So I shall finish with notes on the players: Coyne: played well, as he has done for a while now - one needless punch at a ball in the second half and a couple of flaps aside, he's solid. Good man. The back four - after a nervy first 15 mins, settled down and worked well - all previous criticisms stand, really - Butterfield's punts Upfield are aimless, Fostervold looks a tad slow... but no complaints, really, they did a fine job. Zhang looks solid, as did Smith (R) who replaced him, and Groves *is* Mr Reliable in all areas of the field! Midfield of Willems, Burnett, Caldicott and Campbell played well, although Stace looked a little lost out wide... up front, Kev was good for The most part, dangerous at times, but a bit flimsy for the rest, and Nielsen... hmm... didn't seem to have the fiery temperament you associate with him. Whether this is because it was a typical Dave The Dude away game, or because he has secretly made his mind up that this is no longer for him... who can tell? He still performed some important flick-ons and hold-ups... but when you compare him to Willems or Campbell, he looked motiveless... My man of the match - has to be Willems. Can we buy him please, Lennie?

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