The Terriers didn’t get the ball down and pass it like they could until they were two goals down and even then the hosts carried a real threat going forward.
All in all it was a night to forget for the Club, which can now refocus on the start of the npower Championship season at Cardiff City on Friday night.
Town lined up in the 4-3-3 formation Simon Grayson had preferred during pre-season, with Jimmy Spencer spearheading the attack in his first competitive appearance for the Club.
Grayson was without the services of a quintet of players through international commitments; Joel Lynch, Murray Wallace, Oliver Norwood, Sean Scannell and Jordan Rhodes. However, he still handed five their Town debuts; summer signings Paul Dixon, Anthony Gerrard, Adam Clayton, Keith Southern and the aforementioned Spencer.
Preston started the game well and pressed the Terriers in the manner you have come to expect from Graham Westley’s teams – the hosts got good numbers forward and delivered the ball into the box at every available opportunity. The set-pieces from home midfielders Nicky Wroe and Lee Holmes were also typically inventive and it wasn’t until the seventh minute that Town enjoyed any type of sustained possession.
Alex Smithies was called into action within the opening 43 seconds when home skipper John Mousinho powered a fantastic strike towards goal from just outside the box. Alex did well to save the first effort and reacted well to close down the space for striker Jack King on the follow-up – who fired wide.
Grayson’s side missed out midfield and went too long with their passing on several occasions during the opening 45 minutes, but they did create chances when they kept the ball. Spencer’s hold-up play was decent and his flick-on from a Dixon cross fell to Lee Novak at the back post in the ninth minute, but he fired a tame left foot shot straight at the goalie.
Barely a minute later Ward drove at the heart of the Preston defence before passing to Novak and his low pull-back found the feet of Spencer; his low drive was blocked before Oscar Gobern picked up the rebound and curled just wide.
Town’s best chance of the half fell to Spencer on the quarter hour mark. Adam Clayton found the head of Novak with a precise cross-field pass and he picked out Spencer’s run with a deft header, but under heavy pressure the young striker lobbed the ball over the bar from around 18 yards out.
After an end-to-end opening 20 minutes the tempo dropped, but the hosts took the lead just before the half hour mark. Winger Jeffrey Monakana picked up the ball from a throw-in and wasted no time in crossing the ball into the box; Smithies started to come and then changed his mind, Gerrard hesitated and that allowed big striker King to place a good header into the far corner
Former Arsenal winger Monakana fired powerfully over from 25 yards before Preston doubled their advantage in the 40th minute. Town switched off and had nobody screening in front of striker Chris Beardsley from a throw-in, which allowed the former Stevenage man to bring the ball down; he managed to squeeze a cross past Gerrard on the by-line and that gave midfielder Nicky Wroe the simple task of stroking the ball home from just six yards.
Only a great defensive header from left back Dixon prevented Beardsley from connecting with a good left wing cross from Holmes before the half came to a close.
Town switched to 4-4-2 at the interval, with Scott Arfield replacing Danny Ward – who looked to have picked up a knock during the first half – on the left flank and Clayton moving out to the right. The Terriers started in brighter fashion, with a lovely bit of skill from Spencer leaving defender Paul Huntington for dead by the corner flag but Keith Southern firing the eventual chance miles over the bar.
However, Preston got back into it and Beardsley tested Smithies with a snapshot from an acute angle before Monakana sent a skimming drive wide from just inside the box.
Town’s best spell of the half followed – but they couldn’t get the goal that would have blown the tie wide open. First goalie Stuckmann gathered in Dixon’s low cross with Novak lingering for a tap-in before Spencer and substitute Arfield combined to put the Scottish defender in down the left again minutes later. This time Novak did connect with his low cross – but he could only glance the ball wide of target.
Gobern was the next to have a chance after a patient team move ended with Novak back-heeling the ball into his path, but the tall midfielder’s placed shot from the edge of the box lacked power and was easy pickings for the ‘keeper.
Between those chances Preston still carried a threat, with Wroe firing just wide and pacey substitute David Amoo blasting a cross-come-shot wide of target.
Novak came close again with six minutes left – picking up a knock-down courtesy of second-half substitute Alan Lee and driving a deflected effort inches wide of the ‘keeper’s right-hand post. However, it was destined to be a night to forget for the Terriers.
Town’s team (4-3-3):
Alex Smithies; Paul Dixon, Peter Clarke (c), Anthony Gerrard (Tom Clarke 75), Jack Hunt; Oscar Gobern, Keith Southern, Adam Clayton; Danny Ward (Scott Arfield 46), Jimmy Spencer (Alan Lee 75), Lee Novak
Ian Bennett, Calum Woods, Anton Robinson, Kallum Higginbotham
Town booking: Peter Clarke (17)
Preston booking: Nicky Wroe (16)