Preston North End Press View by Dave Seddon: Declining numbers are a concern
The problem was that there were few people inside Deepdale to generate heat and prevent the Baltic conditions from biting.
An assist of 9,838 was given for the 1-1 draw, with 886 Cottagers fans climbing up from London for the early departure.
This meant that only 8,952 North Enders were recorded as being in the crowd.
It was the second time this season that numbers have fallen below 10,000 for a championship game, as the visit to Peterborough in August drew 9,952 spectators.
The season high for a Championship game at Deepdale was 18,092 for the visit to Derby County – the day fans honored the memory of Trevor Hemmings.
It was £ 5 per seat that day, with 15,644 in the home stands and 2,448 Rams supporters in the Kop.
‘Sold out’ signs were displayed for Liverpool’s visit to the Carabao Cup as 22,131 clicked on the turnstiles.
However, the bread and butter of league football just doesn’t attract the numbers and that’s a big concern.
I think there were some mitigating factors that made the Fulham crowd as small as it was.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, it was very cold. While we only had the edges of Storm Arwen, it had blown the day before the game.
Arwen gave way to plunging temperatures on Saturday morning and things had barely warmed up at kick-off at 12:30 p.m. The game was live on Sky, a factor that will always shave a few from the crowd.
On this point in particular, the lunchtime debut for live broadcasts in Deepdale has been slim over the past few seasons, making it difficult to compare.
The last one with fans on the ground was on Easter Monday 2018, when Derby won 1-0 here.
The crowd that day was 13,520, with the Rams bringing in a few and North End still with a playoff shout at the time.
Back in the present, there was also the real fear of being beaten well by Fulham – their previous visit to Lancashire had seen them pump Blackburn 7-0.
The previous week’s second-half performance against Cardiff was not a selling point either.
So the weather, the start of the game on TV, and the low levels of expectation were all factors in the league’s weaker crowd for a good number of seasons.
While that’s an explanation for last Saturday, the lines have barely formed this season.
The results will always be in the fans’ thinking as to whether they should come or not.
There is no doubt that North End has been riddled with inconsistencies this season – the only time things have stabilized being this series of draws in September.
Some devotees aren’t fans of Frankie McAvoy, either his appointment in general or the approach he favors in the games.
If we thought fans would return to Deepdale after the Covid shutout ends, we were wrong.
Maybe during the 17 months that the football fields were empty ships, people found other things to do?
Either way or whatever the combination of factors, it tipped attendance in the wrong direction. It will be interesting to know the turnout for the Barnsley game next Saturday, the last home game before Christmas.
If North End got a decent result at Blackburn, on top of the Fulham draw, I would expect him to come back past the 10,000 mark.
But it is still far from healthy and worrying.
Even away support has taken a hit, not in terms of road games in general, but what follows goes to Blackburn.
There have been over 7,000 in Darwen End on recent trips to Rovers, 6,000 minimum.
But the numbers will be lower than Ewood Park, perhaps this season’s visit watered down by North End’s renewed rivalry with Blackpool.
How they lost at Bloomfield Road six weeks ago remains raw.
That said, it will still be a decent percentage of last week’s footfall that makes the trip along the M65. There is clearly work to be done – and a lot – to try and bring fans back.
Those who froze for 90 minutes against Fulham at least got a decent PNE performance.
The first 20/25 minutes weren’t the best from a house perspective, but once they grew into the game it was a very decent watch.
In the second half it was “when” not “if” an equalizer came, a touch of luck coming from the North End when Emil Riis ‘handball from Ched Evans’ first header went unnoticed by officials. Referee Chris Kavanagh was visiting the Premier League for the day and probably wished he had VAR with him.
VAR would have ruled out Evans’ equalizer but would also surely have seen Antonee Robinson receiving a more severe penalty than the yellow card he received for the foul on Tom Barkhuizen.
I think it’s difficult for normally serving top-flight referees to come down to EFL now that VAR is used in the Premier League.
Their safety net is removed and matches have to be officiated a little differently.
It used to be pretty important when you saw one of the main referees whistling your game.
But I’m not sure if that’s a good thing anymore and it might be better now that the smaller squad stay in the Premier League.
This in no way calls into question their abilities but if nine times out of 10 they officiated side by side with the VAR, it must be hard not to benefit from the criticism in EFL matches.
I’m not the biggest fan of VAR, with the width of a toenail considered enough to carry a player offside. This is an argument for another day.