REPORT: Preston North End 2 Stevenage 0

Marcus Haber and Paul Huntingdon. Photo: Kevin McGuinness/Johnstone's Press

Marcus Haber and Paul Huntingdon. Photo: Kevin McGuinness/Johnstone's Press - Credit: Archant

Boro outplayed by Preston as Gary Smith’s men slump to a seventh defeat in eight

Gary Smith. Photo: Harry Hubbard

Gary Smith. Photo: Harry Hubbard - Credit: Archant

Preston NE 2

Stevenage 0

npower League 1

Gary Smith must be pulling out his hair in frustration.

How his team can one week achieve a resounding victory against promotion-chasing Brentford and then four days later capitulate to a dire display all over the pitch against a team below them in League 1 is a struggle to comprehend.

The difference cannot be just the absence of James Dunne, who was suspended for this game and replaced by Anthony Grant, no matter how well the midfielder has played this season; Boro looked short of ideas in the final third, at the back there was no communication between goalkeeper and defenders and they looked jaded all over the park.

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What they have in their favour, however, is that win over Brentford as with it Boro remain 10 points clear of the relegation zone with 10 games to play. They are currently on 46 points, and the most points a team has accumulated and still gone down with from League 1 in the past six seasons is Gillingham (50) in 2010.

On Saturday it was Preston who started the better of the two sides, while in the stands the mischievous Boro supporters belted out “there’s only one Graham Westley’. Some Preston supporters booed, but others were seen nodding in agreement with regards to the manager who was sacked last month.

The Stevenage fans were soon silenced when Stuart Beavon took aim from 25 yards with his effort whistling over the top of goalkeeper Steve Arnold’s bar.

It was an early sighting for the Lilywhites, and within four minutes they were ahead when Lee Holmes strutted along the edge of the Boro box and with time to pick a spot sent his curling effort wide of Arnold and just inside the far post.

The home side dominated the early part of the game and twice they crossed along the face of the Boro goal leaving the visitors in something of a panic.

No Preston player was able to apply a touch to either of those crosses, but when a similar ball was sent in by Holmes to the far post on 15 minutes his cross dropped under the bar for Will Hayhurst to tap in.

The new North End manager Simon Grayson, for whom this was a first home game in charge, must have been delighted with his team’s approach, especially as they almost netted for a third time when John Welsh volleyed just wide.

Boro got into the Preston third sporadically, with their only chance of the first half falling to Grant who fired well wide from distance.

At the other end, Jack King was guilty of a howler as with just one defender on the line he fired Beavon’s pull-back well over the bar.

Boro made three attacking changes midway through the second-half - Lucas Akins, Steve Beleck and Robin Shroot for Marcus Haber, Sam Hoskins and the injured Gavin Mahon - but despite a slight improvement they failed to turn the game in their favour.

Firstly Shroot collected a pass from Akins and made space for himself before firing over from 16 yards, and then Beleck failed to get enough on a David Gray cross and headed well wide from 10 yards after making a good run into the box.

Hayhurst had been the best player on the pitch by some way, and he almost got his second late in the game only for Arnold to push his rasping effort out for a corner.

Boro’s best chance of the game came late on when Akins got on to the end of a Greg Tansey free-kick only for Declan Rudd to pull off a decent stop.

It was a poor display from Stevenage, though other results involving teams below them in League 1 offers some salvation from the weekend’s action.

Next up is AFC Bournemouth at home on Tuesday evening but Boro will be without the suspended Dunne and Gray while Mahon is a doubt through injury.

Preston NE: Rudd 6, Connolly 6, Buchanan 6, Huntingdon 7, Wright 6, Hayhurst 8, Holmes 7, Wroe 6, Welsh 7 (Mousinho 85), Beavon 7, King 5 (Beardsley 67). Subs: Stuckman, Robertson, Garner, Monakana, Procter.

Stevenage: Arnold 5, Gray 5, Comminges 6, Charles 4, Roberts 4, Mahon 5 (Shroot 65, 6), Grant 6, Tansey 4, Freeman 5, Hoskins 4 (Akins 59, 5), Haber 4 (Beleck 59, 5). Subs: Day, Hills, Iro, Jeffrey.

Att: 9,000