LISTEN Blades match verdict: Preston 1 Sheffield United 1

Jose Baxter scores
Jose Baxter scores

Styles make fights and this one, between two of the division’s heavyweight teams, was a good old-fashioned tear-up.

The gnarled streetfighters from Preston North End versus Sheffield United. Overhauled, remoulded and now boasting very different weapons to those which served them well in the not so distant past.

Nigel Clough and Simon Grayson left the stadium knowing their teams possess the heart, durability and desire to go the distance in the race for the Championship.

But the latter will not have been delighted to discover that the instigator of Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s superb individual display was sitting right alongside him on the Deepdale bench.

“Glynn Snodin, who is assistant (manager) here at Preston, used to be my old reserve coach when I was coming through with Charlton,” Campbell-Ryce said. “He was responsible for giving me my best ever lesson in football.

“I remember he pulled me aside one day and told me that I had all the ability in the world but that I was lazy, that, if I didn’t learn to do the difficult parts of the game well, show that I was willing to run and work hard, I probably wasn’t going to achieve very much.

“Some people might have shrugged it off and thought ‘sod that’. But, for me, it was a wake-up call. Glynn was right.

“I might not be the biggest but, ever since then, I’ve always made sure that I’ve battled and tried to show the right attitude, stick my head in and make tackles. Basically earn the right to play.”

Campbell-Ryce, making his full debut for the visitors after arriving at Bramall Lane earlier this summer, was a constant menace throughout a contest which Clough insisted was “as good as anything you’ll see in League One or the Championship this season”. He was wasn’t wrong, although whether the former England international or Grayson envisaged quite how it would unfold must remain open to debate.

Saturday’s match surged from one end of the pitch to the other as United, now unbeaten in four outings, and Preston, yet to taste defeat in the competition since reaching the play-off semi-finals last term, exchanged a series of brutal, concussive blows.

There were moments of supreme quality, most notably from Campbell-Ryce, Jose Baxter and Ben Davies while goalkeeper Mark Howard produced a series of fine saves. But, beneath the exhilarating football, United also demonstrated a dogged, tenacious streak as Chris Humphrey excelled for the hosts.

“I know they’re in a different league and are a really top team but I was listening to Gary Neville talk about Arsenal on the television earlier in the week and he explained something which really hit home,” Campbell-Ryce said.

“He was saying that against lesser opponents, as it were, they’ll beat them all day long and probably play them off the park. But, when they come up against Manchester City and Chelsea, who have got the same skills but are so physical and powerful too, they always struggle.

“It doesn’t matter what level you are playing at. You need to be able to do both if you want to be successful. You have to play good stuff but also have a gritty edge.

“There were times out there when we really had to dig in because they can be quite physical at times. There’s nothing wrong with that but you’ve got to stand up.”

Preston, who committed more fouls than any other side in the division during the previous campaign, took the lead when Andy Little’s free-kick evaded Joe Garner and flew straight into the back of Howard’s net.

United’s equaliser was borne of good fortune too - Baxter’s long-range finish taking a deflection en route.

Clough said: “I think both of us will have been happy to have come off with something to show from that because it was real end-to-end stuff and a brilliant game - the atmosphere, our supporters, their supporters, everything about it.

“There were periods when you thought one team was getting on top and then the other came off the ropes, as it were, and enjoyed five or ten minutes in control.”

“We could have come here and tried to break things up but we also wanted to have a go, to get people like Jose, Jamie (Murphy) and Jamal out there on the pitch.

“He (Campbell-Ryce) has shown some really explosive moments in training and when he’s appeared as a substitute lately so we thought he was ready for and deserved his chance.

“The most telling thing, for me at least, about how well he did was seeing them change their full-back at half-time.”

With Campbell-Ryce creating opportunities for Michael Higdon, Murphy and Chris Basham either side of Little’s opener, United deservedly dragged themselves level just before the break when Baxter, scoring for the second time in the space of a week, beat Jamie Jones.

Nevertheless, with Humphrey impressing for Preston, they were indebted to Howard for denying both the former Motherwell winger and substitute Jordan Hugill.

“Defensively, we’re still not quite right,” Clough said. “We’ve failed to keep a clean sheet again and Mark kept us in it at times. Mind you, their lad (Jones) also made some really good saves too. It was that type of afternoon. A brilliant advert.”

Jack King thought he had restored Preston’s advantage during the opening exchanges of the second period but referee Seb Stockbridge and his assistant judged Howard had scrambled the ball clear before it crossed the line.

Jones excelled himself soon after when he tipped Ben Davies’ shot over the crossbar while Higdon went close with another header.

“We’ve got lots of flair players here but the gaffer is getting the right formula and the lads know that it’s not all about tippy-tappy football,” Campbell-Ryce said. “This is League One and you’ve got to be ready to do the ugly side of things too.

“First and foremost, we’ve got to show that we aren’t going to be steamrollered out of things, that we’re going to stand up and be counted rather than let people knock us off the ball. I think that’s what we did out there and we’ve shown that we can rely on each other.

“On that evidence, we’ve just seen two teams who can be right up there and competing at the end of the season but, like I say, we’ve got to carry on showing the same qualities right the way through if we want to do it.”

Heroes: Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Mark Howard and Ben Davies were Sheffield United’s most eye-catching performers while Michael Hidgon was unfortunate to see two close-range efforts scrambled clear.

Viewpoint: On this evidence, United and Preston will be competiting for honours at the end of the season. The action inside Deepdale was captivating and so was the atmosphere too.

CLICK HERE to listen to James Shield’s interview with Jamal Campbell Ryce