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Preston North End 2 v 1 Leeds United
SkyBet Championship
Tuesday, 26th December 2023 Kick-off 12:30
Farke bemoans soft red card that cost us the Preston game
Wednesday, 27th Dec 2023 21:31 by Tim Whelan

Daniel Farke was critical of the referee as well as Milutin Osmajic’s willingness to roll on the floor in what proved to be the key moment of our visit to Preston North End. But he did also admit that we could have done better in the attacking third of the pitch.

After the game our manager said "It's disappointing because the second player really has nothing to do with it. He's come in and tried to provoke Illan then he goes and rolls around 10 times. Maybe the referee should sense what was really happening there. Maybe a yellow card would have been a fairer outcome”.

"Having said that, I can't complain because we've gone and lost to a Preston team who have worked and fought so hard. Millar has been allowed to run 40 yards at us and then he's got himself a dream goal. We were a bit lazy in certain moments but sometimes this does happen after we had been praised so much during the week."

The team must have traveled to Deepdale in a confident mood after the demolition of Ipswich, facing a Preston side who had been slipping down the table after a good start to the season, with their 5-1 home defeat to Watford a particular lowlight. We might have expected Farke to give a few regular starters a rest and given some other players a bit of game time against such opposition.

But the manager opted to keep the same eleven who had kicked off against Ipswich, and the players he trusted produced a rather lacklustre performance, on a pitch that Farke described as the worst of the season. Clearly it didn’t suit our fluent passing game, but as he said, they need to find ways to adapt.

And from the start it seemed that young Archie Gray was struggling against Preston’s best player Liam Millar, and there has been quite a bit of comment online that he should have found a way to get someone on to relieve Spence on our left, so our specialist right-back could move across to deal with Millar. Byram had returned to the bench, as there was also the option of using Firpo.

The warning was there when Millar produced the best chance of the first half, cutting inside to produce a dipping shot that Meslier tipped over the bar. We didn’t produce much at the other end, apart from a typical run to the byline from Rutter, but James took too long to control his cross and the chance went begging. We had a good spell of possession in the middle of the half, but struggled to create anything against their physical approach.

All the key moments in the game would come after the break. Ten minutes after the break Meslier went up to collect a ball that swirled in the wind, and got a nudge in the back by Whiteman as he collected the ball. Which he clearly wasn’t happy about, though the Preston forward wasn’t backing down when Meslier confronted him.

It was at that point that Osmajic chose to get involved in the discussion that was nothing to do with him, barging into Meslier and then pathetically roll around on the floor after the Frenchman gave him a slight push in the face. A blatant a piece of cheating as you’ll ever see, yet the referee still deemed Meslier’s action to be violent conduct, and he was sent off.

So Meslier’s critics would get their wish, with Leeds having another goalie for at least three and a bit games, though the third match of his suspension will be the FA Cup tie, when Darlow would probably have been playing anyway. To get the substitute keeper on for the rest of this match Piroe was chosen to be the player sacrificed, as he had been fairly anonymous amidst our laboured efforts up front.

But before we had the chance to reset ourselves and recover from the shock of going down to ten men, Preston took the lead, and it came from a left wing cross from that man Millar. Browne was left with a bit too much space in the centre, and took the opportunity to place his header into the corner of the net, where Darlow couldn’t get to it.

Farke needed to freshen things up and ten minutes later he sent Gnonto on for Spence to go to a back three in the search for an equaliser. At the same time Joseph and Gruev came on for Summerville and Kamara. This seemed to be paying dividends as we began to force Preston back, with Rutter sending a shot narrowly wide of the post.

And with seven minutes remaining we were given a lifeline as James went down under a challenge as he cut into the box and the referee pointed to the spot. But who was going to take it with our last two penalty scorers (Summerville and Piroe) both off the pitch? I held my breath as Struijk stepped up, but he confidently sent the ball right into the corner, and Leeds were back in the game.

There was a case for saying that we should then have shut up shop, but Gnonto raced to pick up the ball, so the game could restart as soon as possible. Although it was a game we expected to win before it started, a draw might have been seen as a good result once we’d gone down to ten men. And sadly, we weren’t going to get our just reward for this positive approach.

Inevitably it was Millar who was to score the winning goal, cutting in from the Preston left past several defenders, before curling a superb shot into the top corner of the net. As we moved into injury time Bamford was sent on in place of Ampadu, but despite this extra firepower up front we couldn’t force a second equaliser and went down to a very disappointing and controversial defeat.

Later in the day Ipswich and Leicester drew with each other, which wasn’t a bad result for us, but Southampton were the main beneficiaries as they walloped Swansea 5-0 to move above us into third place. As well as repairing some of the damage their goal difference suffered during their poor spell in the autumn.

There are still 22 games left for us to catch up with the top two, and we will hope they will involve a bit more luck with refereeing decisions. But we need to find a way to overcome physical teams who play with a ‘low block’, else this nagging inconsistency might well leave us facing the lottery of the play-offs by the time May comes around.


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