A timely brace from Ched Evans saw Sheffield United come from behind to beat Preston, climbing above their steel city rivals and into 2nd place. North End took the lead shortly after Thorsten Stuckmann saved a tame Evans penalty, but the Welsh striker restored parity just before the break and grabbed the winning goal 10 minutes from time.
Westley made just one change to the team that celebrated a midweek victory over Hartlepool United, with debutant Aaron Brown replacing the injured Jamie McAllister. With just under half an hour played, the centre-back made his mark on the game when he pulled down Ched Evans inside the box and gave United a penalty – not an ideal way to start your North End career, but blushes were spared as Thorsten Stuckmann made his sixth penalty save of the season following an uncharacteristically weak spot-kick from leading goalscorer Evans.
Ten minutes later, North End took the lead through new signing Graham Cummins. Paul Parry’s cross was only partly cleared by the United defence, and when the ball dropped to Nicky Hunt, his chipped ball found the head of the Cork City striker whose sublime looping header left Simonsen with no chance. Cummins wheeled away in celebration, clearly delighted with his first North End goal. However, his joy was to be short lived.
United had been in the ascendancy for much of the first period and, albeit in sloppy fashion, got their just deserts before the break. After a piercing ball down the middle of the park, Flynn picked up the ball in a dangerous position and slotted it into the penalty area where Quinn’s mishit shot was cruelly deflected into the path of an unmarked Evans who couldn’t really miss. 1-1 at the break.
The second half was a bit less frantic as both teams looked to control the tempo of the game. Barton had the best of the chances for PNE, but his long-range effort drove agonisingly wide of the post. North End’s attacking movement was much better than during the midweek showing against Hartlepool, but despite winning that game, they would go away from Bramall Lane empty handed.
North End failed to clear a free-kick and Matt Lowton’s header was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Stuckmann before James Beattie’s rebounded effort was cleared off the line by Aaron Brown, epitomising North End’s battling spirit. That spirit was about to be broken though; from the resultant corner, the in-form Ched Evans rifled in the winner, and his 15th goal in 16 appearances.
The Preston team left the field deflated, but boss Graham Westley found much to be positive about:
“The players are showing on all levels that they’re going in the right direction, considering we had seven or eight players out there who didn’t have any Preston North End experience until four or five games ago.”
“Their attitude, their commitment and their will to go and win the game was there for all to see. We’ve made mistakes, but I think the fans’ applause at the end probably says it all; they saw a side out there with a will to win.”
“I think that the performance on Tuesday was a disappointing one, but the result was great. Obviously, it’s good to win at home, but it was a nervous, edgy night for a lot of players. Players like Robbo (Chris Robertson), you won’t see him play that badly ever again. He kept a clean sheet and he was part of a winning team, but that wasn’t Chris Robertson. Today was Chris Robertson; he played with a determination of steel; he added organisation to the back line; he competed well and he dominated two very good forwards, so there’s a lot of positives.”
“I think right the way through the 11, you can see that the team are starting to develop the winning spirit, the appetite, and as the fitness levels grow, the organisation grows, the understanding and the togetherness grows, you can only see this team going in one direction.”