Preston NE 0 Crystal Palace 0: Taylor finds light in the dark

Preston suffer attack of vertigo and waste chance to reach summit
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This was a day when Preston stared history in the face, yawned, and decided that perhaps it wasn't worth ascending to their highest position since 1951 after all. They knew that if they got a better result than Cardiff managed at Sheffield Wednesday they would go top of the second flight for the first time since Clement Atlee was Prime Minister (if, that is, you exclude the interlude last year when the vagaries of the early-season fixture list had them there for a 24-hour spell), but tedium prevailed.

Back then Britain was still in the grip of food rationing; yesterday the only thing in short supply was entertainment. Perhaps seven straight wins breeds an element of complacency. There was a soporific feel to the first half as Preston passed the ball around neatly without ever really looking like breaking through the two lines of defence Crystal Palace had positioned just outside their box.

The PA announcer greeted the return of the teams after the break with the words, "Welcome to the second half of the Uriah Rennie show", and the referee probably was the most diverting aspect, but even he was nowhere near the heights of absurdist genius he can reach.

Yes, he inadvertently tackled James Scowcroft at one point, failed to hit the touchline when trying to boot a spare ball out of play, and dismissively forced Matt Hill to crawl off the pitch for treatment after he suffered a hamstring strain serious enough for him to be substituted midway through the first half, but it was far from a vintage performance.

The only time Rennie strayed close to controversy was in the final minutes of the first half when he denied Sean St Ledger a penalty as he claimed he had been pulled back by Scowcroft, and then chose to show Scowcroft only a yellow card when he subsequently caught St Ledger with a flailing arm.

If the first half was lacklustre, at least until Paul McKenna had a dipping shot tipped over in injury time, the second was just as bad. This was a game so devoid of incident that it was tempting to adapt the critic Vivian Mercier's description of the play Waiting for Godot: it was a game in which nothing happened, twice.

The Preston manager, Paul Simpson, though, was determined not to be despondent. "I think it's a really important point," he said. "You don't get anything for being top of the table at this stage. Today was just one of those days when it didn't quite drop for us going forward. Defensively we were excellent. We've got to keep our chin up and keep pushing on. Maybe you've got to give credit to Palace."

The away side sat three players in front of the back four with only Jobi McAnuff pushing on from midfield, and that was enough to stifle Preston. "If you'd offered me that before the game, I'd have taken it," their manager, Peter Taylor, said. "On the ball I was very pleased, defensively I was very pleased, and clean sheets are very important."

So Preston extended their unbeaten home run and remained level on points at the top of the division, and Palace were delighted get the point they evidently came for. So nobody was unhappy - but it was a miserable way to spread contentment.

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