Blues made it back-to-back victories and clean sheets with a 3-0 victory over Preston North End at St.Andrews.
Blues started the better of the sides but were unable to open the scoring during a tame first half despite Morrison and Jutkiewicz coming close.
The game to life during the second period when a Declan Rudd howler gifted Maikel Kieftenbeld his first goal of the season.
Garry Monk’s side doubled the score just after the hour through Jacques Maghoma before Che Adams put the game to bed late on.
With Jota still unavailable, Garry Monk named an unchanged squad for the visit of Preston North End. It meant that Connor Mahoney and Jacques Maghoma again started out wide while Gary Gardner and Maikel Kieftenbeld kept their places in midfield. On the bench, there was still no Viv Solomon-Otabor while Bez Lubala was again left out, Josh Dagres-Cogley and Omar Bogle remaining.
Alex Neil was dealt another couple of blows this week with tenacious midfielder Ben Pearson and experienced defender Tom Clarke both forced to sit out. The duo were replaced by Darnell Fisher and ex-England U17 European Championship winner Ryan Ledson. Defender Ben Davies returned to the bench while 18-year-old Jack Baxter was brought into the Lilywhites squad for the first time.
The first half was a relatively dran affair, one with few clear efforts and even less entertaining football.
Blues unquestionably started the better but Michael Morrison couldn’t test Declan Rudd with a header and flashed another wide of the target. Jutkiewicz almost found Che Adams for a tap-in and his striker partner nearly returned the favour with a cross-cum-shot, both efforts blocked by last ditch defending.
Garry Monk thought his side may have had a penalty when Che Adams appeared to be fouled in the area but referee David Webb waved play on. Preston soon got into the game with Louis Moult and Paul Huntington giving Lee Camp a little something to do.
Maikel Kieftenbeld thrashed over the bar from distance while Lukas Jutkiewicz did brilliantly to dig out a chance but blazed wide of the near post.
Preston made a half-time substitution and probably hoped for a livelier second half. What they got was a moment of sheer madness from goalkeeper Declan Rudd.
The move was typical of the game, Pedersen with a long throw that was cut out before making Jutkiewicz. Kieftenbeld was first to the ball but played a wasteful pass over the top of Adams. Or so he thought. Rudd had the easiest of jobs to collect the ball but somehow managed to let it slip through his arms and legs. If you thought Enckleman was bad…
If the ex-Norwich City keeper was hoping to forget his error, he was in the wrong stadium but he was sharp to make a double stop from Gary Gardner and Lukas Jutkiewicz. Harlee Dean ought to have scored from the resulting corner but headed wide from six yards.
Blues were struggling to get the second and Lukas Nmecha’s arrival on the pitch threatened to shift the focus of the game from Declan Rudd to Lee Camp. Blues’ confidence was returning, however, and Neil’s side were soon 2-0 down.
The confidence was flowing and Jacques Maghoma was flying. The move started with a driving Mahoney run and ended with Maghoma chesting Colin’s cross up in the air, onto his shoulder and then his right boot which sent the ball flying into the bottom corner.
Just like Wednesday, the second proved to be the killer blow for Blues. The confidence was returning and summed up by the third, Kieftenbeld’s clearance hunted down by Adams who outpaced Fisher before scoring past Rudd who ought to have done better – not for the first time.
Very little happened from that point. Blues limited Preston to one effort, which was blocked, in the final ten minutes and a wonderful afternoon was almost made perfect when Omar Bogle raced through, only for Rudd to deny the forward who is still yet to score since returning the club.
A second half to savour.
A response was needed following last Sunday’s defeat at V*lla Park and the victory at Millwall on Wednesday offered a reprieve. However, the Millwall victory was about siege mentality and wasn’t the most comfortable of displays. Blues needed more against Preston.
This was still about toughness, about organisation, about avoiding embarrassment and picking up three points. But the performance mattered more after Wednesday. Could Blues remain hard to beat while also looking a little easier on the eye, a return to the performances that made us so enjoyable to watch at the start of this season.
We needed a little bit of luck to break the deadlock in this one but the weight was lifted off Blues shoulders and the domination that followed the opener was a testament to the returning confidence in this Blues team, players willing to get forward, to try and get the second and make keep the opposition penned back in front of the Tilton.
The confidence is evidently returning and the return of Jacques Maghoma has been key to that, Blues having strong options on either side of the pitch and a player capable of both making runs off the ball and driving Blues forward with it.
Three goals, a clean sheet and a moment that won’t be forgotten by those at St.Andrews today. Keep Right On.