Basham a big hitter for Preston

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The Independent Online

The slender margin of victory tells only a part of the story as Preston's excellent start to the season continued with this thorough dismantling of a toothless Portsmouth side.

The slender margin of victory tells only a part of the story as Preston's excellent start to the season continued with this thorough dismantling of a toothless Portsmouth side.

Just one defeat (against fancied Bolton) in five fixtures is deserved reward for the manager David Moyes' insistence that his side will survive and even flourish while maintaining their passing principles.

Preston began by looking like a team who relish the chance to test their abilities against supposedly stronger opposition since their elevation last season. Their keenness to pass their way to Portsmouth territory was exemplified by an early move which saw the ball delivered swiftly through the midfield, pushed wide to the right and, ultimately switched left, where Paul McKenna's fine cross deserved a better finish than that applied by Mark Rankine.

The visitors, in contrast, were leaden-legged and struggled to land even the simplest of passes with any level of accuracy. Their only move of consequence in the opening period was a counter-attack which, despite parity of personnel in the Preston box, fizzled out through a combination of indecision and lack of vision.

Just as well, then, that their defence was alert. Jon Macken, scorer of three goals in Preston's opening four fixtures, was the pivotal player in his side's attacks, and only the combined and tireless efforts of Linvoy Primus and Darren Moore at the heart of the back four restricted Macken to shooting from distance. Elsewhere, the visitors simply did not seem able or willing to muster sufficient energy to trouble North End. Their midfield, particularly, was slow to support both an overworked defence and an underemployed attack.

And how it was missed within a minute of the restart. Rankine, the smallest man on the pitch, too easily won the ball on the edge of the Portsmouth box and prodded it forward for Steve Basham, whose sweetly struck left-footed volley was more than a match for thevisitors' goalkeeper, Russell Hoult.

The maxim that a side are most vulnerable immediately after scoring clearly has not reached this part of Lanc- ashire as Preston continued to surge forward. McKenna, delightfully fed by Macken, could have sealed the points but dragged his tightly angled drive just wide. A brief flurry of Portsmouth pressure followed but was smartly curtailed by more well-oiled Prestonmanoeuvres which saw a goal-bound Michael Appleton drive career off a defensive limb and Macken waste a fine heading opportunity with only Hoult to beat.

Predictably the visitors threw caution to the wind in the closing moments, the only period of the game where they had their hosts rattled, but even the timeless toiler Steve Claridge, given a free header from three yards, could not paper over the cracks of the preceding dismal 80 minutes.

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