Wycombe Wanderers 3-4 Preston North End

Preston North End came from behind to win in a seven goal thriller at Adams Park this evening, earning a 7th consecutive league victory and a 2nd place perch in League One.

After going 2-0 down, Wycombe went in 3-2 up at the break thanks to goals from Gareth Ainsworth, Scott Donnelly and Stuart Beavon. But Neil Mellor and Iain Hume completed their braces in the second half to seal another impressive North End victory.

Preston got off to a dream start with two goals inside the first 10 minutes. Neil Mellor grabbed his 7th of the season with a typical goal-poacher’s finish after a set-piece, knocking the ball into the net from six yards out.

Iain Hume added his name to the scoresheet just two minutes later to put North End two to the good. The instrumental Paul Coutts picked out Mellor once again, but the unselfish striker pulled it back for team-mate Hume whose left-footed strike found the bottom corner.

At 2-0 up with just nine minutes on the clock, a Preston victory looked all but secure , especially considering their recent form. But Wycombe beat Sheffield United at the weekend in a shock result, and were looking to do some more giant killing, this time against the Lilywhites.

The goalfest continued from the restart as Wanderers earned themselves a free-kick in a dangerous position. Arestidou made a mess of the initial strike, fumbling the ball and dropping it to the feet of ex-North Ender Gareth Ainsworth whose job was an easy one. The 38-year-old veteran made a point to not celebrate against his old club as a note of respect.

Wycombe were back in the game two minutes later when Conor McLaughlin clashed with the impressive Kadeem Harris. The 18-year-old midfielder went to ground, earning the London side a spot kick. Scott Donnelly confidently stepped up and sent Arestidou the wrong way, restoring parity just four minutes after his team went 2-0 down.

Referee Michael Naylor had already made some enemies within the travelling North End fans for his dubious penalty decision, and he didn’t help his cause when he booked Graham Alexander on 20 minutes for a seemingly fine tackle. He then went on to produce a further 5 yellow cards throughout the remainder of the game, owing to an impressive total of 34 for the season, with an additional 3 red cards brandished.

Gary Ainsworth nearly added his second, but his strike was deflected behind forwhat would be a game-changing corner kick. The ball sailed into the North End penalty area and Stuart Beavon rose the highest to nod the ball into the net. Three goals in 15 minutes for Wycombe completed a remarkable turnaround, but there were more goals to come.

Wycombe nearly scored again from a corner, but Lewis’ free header at the back post went wide of Arestidou’s goal. The Preston back four was looking increasingly nervy. In particular, Conor McLaughlin’s confidence looked shot to pieces after he gave away the penalty; he simply couldn’t deal with Harris, and so Phil Brown brought on David Gray in his place on the half-hour mark, and it proved to be another inspirational¬†substitution¬†from the Preston gaffer.

The Lilywhites looked for a way back into the game and Jamie Proctor was looking the most likely to find it. He had two decent chances to draw PNE level, but his first effort – a looping header – skimmed the bar and nestled on top of the Wycombe goal.

Minutes later and Proctor was threatening again, this time with a blazing shot from range. The strike was sailing toward goal like an arrow, perfectly straight in its flight, but Bull saved fantastically, tipping the ball over his crossbar.

In between Proctor’s chances, Stuart Lewis went close for Wanderers but was cruelly denied by the woodwork, and so the score remained 3-2 at half-time.

Preston keeper Andreas Arestidou was standing in for the injured Iain Turner for his 4th consecutive game, and he recently told reporters that he was looking to keep his place between the sticks. Determined to make up for his earlier error, he pulled out a top-drawer save from a close-range header to keep Preston in the game, and it would be the first of many.

Arestidou’s opposite number was also in fine form, and once again kept out Jamie Proctor with a great diving save; it was hard to imagine how these keepers had already let in five goals between them.

Preston looked to be heading to a defeat with 30 minutes left as they wasted multiple corners and free-kicks from good positions, a Barry Nicholson effort was particularly wasteful.

Much like Tranmere at the weekend, Wycombe were assaulting our flanks and exploiting our 4-3-3 formation with their pacy wingers; Harris was unlucky not to score on the hour mark.

North End upped their attacking play and Hume nearly grabbed his second goal. He narrowly missed, but was flagged for offside anyway. Hume’s persistence has been inspirational since he arrived from Barnsley last season, and it was this characteristic that earned Preston their equalising goal.

Teams have struggled to find an answer to North End’s counter-attacking moves this season, and Wanderers were the latest team to fall victim to it as Barry Nicholson brought down the ball from a corner and hooked a long ball upfield. Hume latched onto the ball and managed to outpace every player on the pitch, dribble into the box and dink the ball over the approaching keeper to make it 3-3.

Phil Brown’s half-time team talk appeared to have done the trick, because with the next attack, Preston took the lead. Paul Coutts is looking a real talent this season, and when he got the ball in a central position, he waited, and waited, and waited, holding the ball up tremendously well. Help eventually arrived from substitute David Gray who took the ball from Coutts, made a penetrating run into the box and found Neil Mellor at the back post who couldn’t really miss. 4-3 to North End.

Brown had shown his tactical nous against Tranmere at the weekend, and he got it spot on again at Wycombe, at least in the second half. In the closing stages, North End reverted to a 4-4-2 formation to give extra cover to the wing-backs. He brought Ian Ashbee and Danny Mayor on in place of the tiring Iain Hume and Jamie Proctor, and North End saw the game through.

Questions were being asked of North End’s defence at the break as they managed to squander a two goal advantage within a matter of minutes, but a fantastically resilient Preston side came out in the second half and made it seven league wins on-the-spin.

The victory meant Preston climbed to 2nd in the table with a game-in-hand on league leaders Charlton Athletic, and an away win at Leyton Orient on Saturday could see them go top of the pile.

– Rory

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