With three changes to the team that had conceded late against Barnsley, the afternoon got off to a bad start for the visiting Villans, who conceded within five minutes. Poor defending meant the ball broke for Pearson. Taking a touch, he moved into the box before firing a low shot past Bunn, who was deputising for the injured Gollini, from twelve yards out.

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The visitors could not respond in meaningful fashion, allowing their hosts to dominate possession and offering the 5,600 travelling supporters an indescribably inadequate forty-five minutes of football.

When McGeady found former Villan Robinson with a cross, the claret and blue army feared the worst, although the shot was deflected behind.

The ensuing corner was headed wide by Baptiste.

The hosts had plenty of chances and it took a point black range save from Bunn to deny Hugill after more defensive disarray.

The Lilywhites’ second came after thirty-nine minutes, as Pearson capitalised on Westwood’s wandering mind to set up Johnson, another Villa academy graduate. The midfielder was denied by a Chester tackle, although Hugill was on hand to collect the breaking ball and his left-footed strike beat Bunn.

A double substitution at the break saw Gestede and McCormack introduced, replacing Westwood and Grealish, which sparked some life, albeit not enough, into Di Matteo’s men.

Robinson played like a man possessed and saw his shot beaten away by Bunn.

The hosts’ calls for a penalty as Hutton and Adomah scrambled to clear the ball at the back post fell on deaf ears.

As chants of “Sacked in the morning” rang around Deepdale and the home fans gloated about having secured Johnson’s service for “fifty grand”, the game opened up but Di Matteo’s man, once again, failed to take their chances.

McCormack came close but found his low drive blocked.

Gestede, unmarked, had the chance to convert an Ayew corner but headed over.

McCormack’s free-kick hit the side netting with seven minutes left on the clock, summing up an abysmal afternoon.

A late Kodjia goal was disallowed when the referee spotted an infringement.

When Wright brought Kodjia down in stoppage time, McCormack stepped up to the spot. His spot-kick was saved by Maxwell, adding to the fans’ frustrations at the death.

Speaking post-match, Di Matteo, a man under considerable pressure, said:

“There’s a team here that is good, it will come good for us.

We will keep working. I have faith in the team, I believe in the team and I think that, come the end of the season, they will be up there.

It’s been a bad day at the office for sure. We are ten points from sixth place so it’s still all possible.

It’s normal that when the results of the team aren’t what you expect the results will be questioned. That’s part of our job.”


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