There was further evidence of United’s gradual progression – and adaptability – at Preston, though defensive concerns remain.
Mark Howard saved the point near the end, when he was exposed far too often, but overall United deserved the draw.
The adaptability came early on. United started with five in midfield and – unusually – Jose Baxter the furthest back of the five. Within moments of Preston’s goal everything changed – Murphy up front and Michael Doyle, not Baxter, playing on the left of midfield. It is not Doyle’s preferred position, but Cloughie had identified the threat of Chris Humphrey and doubled up on him.
With Jamal Campbell-Ryce also bringing something different to the team, it’s looking better, but still nowhere near the level we all want to see.
This season has seen a number of games that, for the first time in a few years, have not included a home-grown player. This is not Cloughie’s fault - he has a reputation for bringing through youngsters – he has promoted Connor Dimaio, Otis Khan and Louis Reed to the first team but lost Harry Maguire and George Long. Others who have played in recent years – Callum McFadzean, Elliott Whitehouse and Joe Ironside – proved to be not quite good enough, but I hope Reed, Khan, Dimaio, Di Girolamo and Calvert-Lewin get their chances when the time is right. Cloughie will know when.
* As far as I know, there are three footballing Ben Davieses. Two of them played at Preston last week, and another plays for Spurs. But I believe ours is the most environmentally conscious - twice he removed litter from the pitch to keep the grass looking tidy. Well, he’s either environmentally conscious or he has OCD!