This was not a pretty game of football. It was the ugly sister, full beer goggles, double bagger.
The reasons for this are in this blogs view, pretty simple.
Smith is hampered with a squad with great imbalance. He’d taken positive, sensible steps in addressing our formation and first eleven as well as pleasingly encouraging us to play on the front foot.
All of this has been massively hampered by a glut of injuries and a busy December that have seen us come up against some real tests.
This looked like a patched up Villa side [particularly defensively], limping towards January, that is also suffering from fixture fatigue.
We also badly miss Grealish, more-so than perhaps anyone expected. His ongoing absence has seen us become far less fluid in in the middle third of the pitch.
Nothing better illustrates this than a largely mundane first half where you could have been forgiven for dozing off into what’s left of the Christmas cheeseboard.
Were it not for a well taken Tammy Abraham headed goal, from a Glenn Whelan corner no less, then the opening 45 would have been readily forgotten.
Abraham remains potent in front of goal, scoring his 14th of the season, but it wasn’t be a game where he’d also find his 15th.
The second half served to remind us of how frustrating it can be following this great club.
We laboured, didn’t capitalise upon our lead, rode our luck and were punished.
Nyland, the penalty hero against Swansea, produced a fine save, diving to left to bat away a fierce goalbound effort.
Villa’s current panto Villain, Ahmed Elmohamady, guilty of some frighteningly bad errors in recent weeks must think his luck is truly out. The Egyption international could only contribute an own-goal to level proceedings for Preston.
Despite Villa’s fragility, with anything over the top resulting in defensive chaos, we had the perfect opportunity to pinch all three points.
Only Birkir Bjarnason knows how he missed from underneath the Preston bar. The Icelandic ‘star’ must now live out his life as part of every footballing comedy blooper reel:
The trouble is, as any seasoned fan will attest, is that these are two glaring points dropped.
These games are the annoying results that you glance back at the end of the season and circle as the ones that ‘cost us’.
Any away point is valuable, but where we need not only be keeping pace with promotion hopefuls around us, we must not concede ground.
At the start of the day we were 3 points behind 6th place. We now find ourselves 5 points adrift.
It places additional, arguably preventable pressure upon each upcoming game. It also turns them into the undesirable ‘must-wins’.
QPR are our next opponents on New Years Day, a team above us and in decidedly better shape than Preston.
Smith must now urgently rally and regroup the troops, as sterling work throughout December can be undone all too quickly.
Separately, we now welcome back Tommy Elphick, recalled from his season long loan to Hull. One would imagine this will relieve James Bree of his awkward centre-half duties alongside Chester, but the former Barnsley man may yet see himself replace the luckless Elmohamady at right back in the interim.