In terms of poor performances this season, this was up there with Swindon away. We just weren`t at it from the first whistle to the last, and it was the manner of the defeat, rather than the defeat itself, that hurt the most.
We started off playing 4-4-2, with Painter making his debut at left back alongside Seabourne, Cook and Francis in defence, then it was Pugh wide left and Ritchie wide right with Arter and MacDonald in central midfield, and Grabban and Pitman up front.
Right from the start you sensed the team selection and formation wasn`t quite right. Gone was the zippy passing and movement we`ve got so used to seeing, and Preston outplayed us, pure and simple. We were second to everything. I can only assume that the 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 formation that has served us so well away from home of late was abandoned because Hughes can`t play two games in a week and Eddie wanted Ritchie to play wide right following the acquisition of Painter. Eddie also dropped O`Kane in favour of MacDonald – a strange decision given that O`Kane and Arter had struck up such a good partnership in midfield, and MacDonald had only had a couple of late cameos since his injury. McQuoid was also very unlucky to be dropped as a result of this reshuffling.
So?the game began with AFCB defending the goal behind which we were sitting, and my attention was immediately drawn to the performance of Painter, who was playing right in front of us. To be honest, he looked, um, ordinary. He reminded me of a journeyman player – the type that Pompey has been signing on monthly contracts all season. Hopefully he will improve once he knits together with his new teammates, but unfortunately he doesn`t look like someone keen to overlap/dovetail with the wide midfielder in front of him, and what with Pugh clearly not functioning at 100%, this meant we were rather weak on the left. However, I`m certainly not singling Painter out as the reason for the defeat – the whole team needs to take responsibility for that – just writing a bit about him as he was a debutant.
Anyway, Preston took the lead after about 20 mins when we faffed around a bit on the edge of the box and failed to clear a bobbling ball, allowing Beavon to sweep a shot into the bottom corner. Then 10 mins later it was 2-0, after a simple cross into the box was not dealt with and Wright had a tap in following a bit of pinball in our 5 yard box.
I think it was at this point that Pugh went off – presumably he thought he was fit following his illness, but clearly wasn`t – and O`Kane came on, and I`ve got to admit I couldn`t quite work out what was going on in our midfield after that. I think someone on this site posted that it was reminiscent of Groves` diamond, and I would concur with that damning assessment.
Foggy then came on for Painter at the start of the second half, as we went with three at the back. It didn`t work. Tubbs then came on for Arter and, to be honest, I wasn`t quite sure what formation we were playing after that – I was simply sitting there waiting for the ref to blow up for full time, as it was obvious we were never going to get back into the game. Someone told me afterwards we had two shots on target. I must have missed them.
One mystifying aspect of the afternoon was the performance of Ritchie. For me he`s been brilliant at left back – full of energy, bombing up and down the wing, technically excellent, putting in great crosses, using his pace to track back goal side if an attacker gets beyond him (he did that particularly well at Crewe) – and yet yesterday, in his preferred position, he was anonymous. It was all very strange, a bit like our overall performance.
I know this report probably sounds like a bit of an over-reaction, and I know it`s only one game and we can`t win every time and it`s hopefully just a blip and we`re still top of the league, etc., but we were dire. Like I said, it was the manner of the defeat rather than the defeat itself.
I am expecting a MASSIVE reaction in the Sheffield United game on Saturday.
Report by CourtJester
I wouldn’t disagree with C’ report, only to add that the pitch was a disgrace and we didn’t /couldn’t adapt our game to suit.
If ever there was a game to change our tactics when we went behind, this was it. We really needed to bypass the midfield and have a big target man. EH and JT were on the pitch at 1.30 so should have worked out it wasn’t a passing surface. It was obvious from the 1st minute that Preston were ‘up for it’, not giving us a second to settle, closing down and chasing everywhere. The only surprise was that they only scored 2. I haven’t seen us outplayed over 45 minutes since Groves departed and I must admit it was painful to watch. For the first time ( IMO ) since he came back, EH got the tactics and team selection wrong yesterday but like others have said, its just a blip I think and only 1 game. Onwards and upwards:)