The trip up to Deepdale was never going to be an easy task. On the back of two defeats the previous week to Peterborough and Walsall, the news of Kevin Pilkington once again donning a Notts shirt in place of ill Bartosz Bialkowski was received with caution.
Shaun Derry had warned fans attending the Derry and Abbott open evening at Meadow Lane last Thursday that the squad was struggling for fitness and key players may be missing. Having to drop keeper Bialkowski and captain Dean Leacock on top of the numerous other injuries in the squad left Derry just naming six substitutes on his bench. Striker Danny Haynes leaving mid-week on loan to Hibs.
Earlier in the week, Derry praised the Notts contingency for sticking behind the players after being outplayed by an average Walsall side, and it was these same fans that cheered the Magpies onto the wet and windy pitch.
The 300 Notts fans were in full voice as Pilkington acknowledged the supporters before referee Tony Harrington blew for the start of play. The same Tony Harrington who dismissed Jamal Campbell-Ryce in the same fixture last season for his miss-timed lunge on defender Scott Laird. Laird started the game on the bench and failed to feature.
Pilkington didn’t have to wait long before he was put to the test. A foul by captain-for-the-day Sheehan on Garner on the edge of the area saw Gallagher deliver a perfectly placed free-kick to the bottom right corner of the Notts net. A punch-away by Pilkington was followed by a roar of support.
The weather conditions allowed Notts to manipulate their populated midfield throughout the first half. Bouchard and Fotheringham dictated play just in front of the defence allowing the on-loan pairing of Jack Grealish and Callum McGregor to link up time and time again. However for the first 45 minutes, the audience’s
attention was placed on Campbell-Ryce.
Whilst the Lillywhites fans booed and jeered his every touch, Notts fans admired his skill and pace as time and time again their left back was left standing, beaten. But although entertaining, this pressure rarely produced any danger except for a darting cross into the box that was turned out for a Notts corner.
A powerful header by lone striker Showumni, who has played a dominant role in both attack and defence during January, was dismissed over the crossbar.
Moments before, Pilkington had to stretch to save a brilliant effort by Bolton loanee Craig Davies, captured by the Lillywhites on deadline day. Garner also tested the keeper, but it was Jack Grealish who should have put the Magpies into the lead toward the dying end of the first half.
A quick break into Preston’s box saw him send both the keeper and the ball the wrong way. His shot was wide.
At half time, two topics spread between the Magpies: the need to have scored when they were on top, and also the question of how Pilkington could be dropped next Saturday against Coventry after a performance like that.
Notts fans were proved right early in the second half as an evidently stern team talk by Preston manager Simon Grayson led to the home team emerging from the dugouts with a point to prove. Quickly, Notts’ momentum was lost and Pilkington was left to weather both the literal and metaphorical storm, assisted by an off the line clearance by Gareth Roberts from a Davies volley.
Gareth Roberts, on loan from Birmingham City, moved Sheehan into central defence. Although he made pivotal clearances and two brilliant interceptions, too many times throughout the game he let his man past, unmarked, almost Dumbya-esque.
But Pilkington was finally beaten in the 65th after one of the cleanest strikes you are likely to see in this league found its way from Davies to the top corner of the Notts County net.
Sheehan visibly re-ordered his team, but a dubious decision six minutes later would see the end of the match for the Magpies. A brilliantly timed tackle by Grealish on Davies two yards from the box was judged by the referee to be a foul, only to cause fury by the entire Notts players and coaching staff seconds later when referee Harrington pointed to the spot for a penalty. Even Pilkington came out of his area to debate the decision.
Replays later showed it to have been an incorrect one. Bouchard was given a yellow for his protests adding to the three other yellow cards picked up by the Magpies during the game. This just two days after Derry was called in to answer for the team’s poor discipline so far this season.
Joe Garner took the resulting spot kick, burying it to Pilkington’s left side. For the final twenty minutes, Notts spent most of their time penned into their own half with only a sweeping strike by Appiah, brought on in place of Showumni, causing any bother to Preston’s defence. Credit to Callum McGregor for his through-ball.
Full time saw Notts drop back into the bottom four, with games in hand against them, with their on field efforts seeing only one shot on target to Preston’s 14.
Meanwhile, Preston stay 4th.
Another infuriating day for both Notts players and fans, however they were once again cheered off of the field with hope that this determined mentality will carry on to next week when the Magpies face the Sky Blues at Meadow Lane.
Surely Derry’s efforts and sacrifices will begin to pay off with only a quarter of the season left for him to keep Notts up.