A very busy month with 10 games!
Preston 3-0 Jubilo (World Club Championships)
We picked our strongest available 11 and the result was a routine win against fairly limited opponents.
Martin Cameron headed in two goals, assisted once each by McMillan and Anderson. Mark Kerr got the other as we were able to give some key men an early rest. Cameron and Anderson were the top performers.
Preston 1-2 Sundowns (World Club Championships)
With a final game against River to come, Sudell decided to rest the majority of the team for this one, a decision which looks a poor one on paper given the result - but the game should have been winnable with the side sent out. Simon Rusk's return from injury was a welcome positive.
Stephen McPhee gave us the lead, heading in a cross by Joe Henderson. Sundowns levelled the game before half-time and got the winner near the end. Our performance was quite good, we registered 10 shots on target but were met with a man of the match display from the opponents' goalkeeper. Langfield, Archibald and McGuire had average games, but Walker, Henderson, Rusk and McPhee were good.
Preston 1-0 River (World Club Championships)
We faced a strong River side who had defeated us in the Intercontinental Cup at the start of the season needing a win. Sudell sent out the strongest 11 once more, having given most a rest against Sundowns.
We had the better of a tight game, Martin Cameron was a threat throughout, having all 6 of our efforts on goal, hitting the bar and having a goal ruled out before he struck the only goal, from distance, in the 63rd minute. We kept attacking until the end, knowing we needed a 2-goal win to top the group. We couldn't find it and now faced a nervous wait for other results to see if we could make it through.
A few days later we had confirmation - we were the best 2nd placed team and now face Independiente in the Semi Final.
Preston 4-0 Independiente (World Club Championships Semi Final)
Fit-again Neil Scally got a place on the bench, while some patchy recent form for Mark Kerr meant he was replaced in the 11 by Severin.
The first half was quiet, but Severin got the goal we deserved on 48 minutes, heading in a Ferguson cross. Ferguson scored the second, a scorching half-volley, as the captain went on his way to a 10/10 MOTM performance.
Rusk and Clementi had been quiet, so were replaced by Scally and Miller and the subs instantly combined, Miller getting the killer 3rd goal. With 10 minutes remaining, the Independiete 'keeper was sent off and another Preston sub, Darren Mackie, scored the resulting penalty.
Man City 1-2 Preston
With the World Club Championship Final to come the following day, Sudell had a decision to make. The Premier League should and ordinarily would be the priority, but the chance to win silverware of this sort is rare. Of our strongest 11, only Langfield, Ritchie and Walker played.
After an even opening to the game, Brian Dunne gave us the lead, capping a wonderful move and assisted by McPhee. Man City replied on 60 minutes, but Scott Walker got a precious winner, heading in a free-kick from sub, Chris Lucketti. The downside here was definitely three injuries suffered to Henderson, Kerr and Mackie. Thankfully none are particularly long-term.
McPhee, Dunne and man of the match, Simon Rusk, were the key men today.
Preston v Deportivo (World Club Championships, Final)
The Preston lads approached the World Club Final in confident mood, faced with a side that was languishing at the wrong end of the La Liga table and had been comfortably defeated by Preston in the European Super Cup.
The line-up selected for this historic game was as follows: Langfield, Anderson, McMillan, Ritchie, Walker; Scally, Ferguson, Severin; Sutherland, Clementi, Cameron.
The 9th minute red card for Clementi was obviously a factor in the end and it was all the more disappointing as it was entirely unnecessary. The Italian got a yellow for squaring up to an opponent and immediately got a second yellow for his furious reaction at the referee.
We reverted to a 'normal' mentality and direct passing and got a crucial lead when Cameron out-jumped the goalkeeper to head in McMillan's cross.
We looked like we were heading for a famous win, until the Spanish side broke Preston hearts with a late double strike. In hindsight, perhaps we could have really gone into full defensive mode to try to see it out.
Clementi was of course given an official warning for his dismissal, which he was unhappy about. However, there is a more pressing concern regarding our Italian forward. A recent bid of £6.5m from Arsenal was turned down, much to Antonino's displeasure:
Clementi has asked to go on the transfer list, but Sudell is resisting, for now anyway. Let's hope the situation changes.
Preston 1-2 Aston Villa
Just one change as we faced a strong Villa team, Dunne for Clementi on the left wing.
We made a strong start, Sutherland volleying us into the lead on 19 minutes. Just before half-time, an injury to Langfield meant David Cole came on for what would be his final Preston appearance. Unfortunately it wasn't the exit he would have wanted as his goal-kick went straight to Balaban in the second half, who equalised, before Recoba got the winner for Villa.
Neil Scally was superb and earned the MOTM award.
Preston 1-0 Everton
With a few tired bodies in the squad, Sudell freshened things up with 7 changes.
We got a welcome boost when an Everton player head-butted Miller to receive an early red card and then man of the match, Stephen McPhee, scored the only goal shortly after. We ground out an important 3 points, without being quite at our best.
Preston 2-0 Derby
Ferguson and Sutherland returned for the Boxing day fixture as we earned a routine win over Derby.
Stephen McPhee kept his place and rewarded Sudell by scoring a 5th minute penalty and then a second on 28 minutes, a lovely low strike. In the midst of such a busy schedule, Sudell was happy to keep the pace of the game lower as the game drew to the end. Ferguson, Scally and McPhee were all excellent.
Aston Villa 1-3 Preston
Having lost at home to Villa this month, this result felt like a big one for our title ambitions. Clementi returned as the only change.
All the action came in the first half, as McPhee scored a dubiously-awarded penalty, before Clementi doubled the lead after going through on goal. Recoba pulled one back, but McPhee got his 5th goal in 3 games to secure the points with a header from Ferguson's cross just before half-time.
Liverpool have put together a 12 match winning run and are the team we must chase. Newcastle have been on a good run too, although we can go 3 points off the top if we win games in hand. We face Newcastle and Spurs in January and with the FA Cup beginning too, this winter feels crucial. We definitely need Liverpool to start to drop points occasionally!
Russell Anderson had a poor first season but has surprised everyone with some super form this year, establishing himself as the first choice right-back at the club.
This has had a knock-on effect on Maurice Ross, who hasn't played well this season and now finds himself 3rd in the pecking order, and now transfer listed.
Stephen McPhee is the form player at the club and is currently keeping Martin Cameron out of the side. He'll keep his place as long as he keeps scoring goals as he currently is.
David Cole made his arranged transfer to Rangers for £9m, with another £3.6 due after he plays 20 league games. His form this season hasn't been good, perhaps once he became distracted with his future. Still, he has had a superb career for such a young player.
Craig Ferrie also made his exit, for £800,000 to Norwich.
Next Update: January 2008
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