Sunday 17 December 2017

Aiden McGeady shows there's life in the old dog as Horgan makes debut in defeat to Arsenal

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is chased by Aidan McGeady of Preston North End
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is chased by Aidan McGeady of Preston North End
Daryl Horgan at Deepdale
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Across the course of his career, Aiden McGeady has tackled the old cliche that form is temporary and class is permanent. For long spells, it's the class that has been temporary.

His loan move to Preston is his latest attempt to restore direction to a career that has drifted off course since he left Moscow to join Everton three years ago this month.

And, on a lively evening at Deepdale, the 30-year-old offered a reminder of why he was so highly regarded in his early years.

Unfortunately, there would be no happy ending.

The stadium as heaved as Preston threatened to a cause a major FA Cup shock with Arsenal riding their luck in a first half where the Championship team had created enough chances to be out of sight.

They could only manage one goal which Aaron Ramsey cancelled out just after the interval before Olivier Giroud pilfered a late winner.

McGeady found himself pegged back on the defensive for large periods of the second half when Arsenal finally woke up and gained control of this fixture, as Preston vainly tried to hold on for a replay that would have meant a lot for their coffers.

It was a different story in the first half as an upset looked to be a live possibility with McGeady at the heart of it, putting in a performance which ensured there was no need for manager Simon Grayson to turn to Daryl Horgan until the final 10 minutes. And even when the ex-Dundalk man was brought in, McGeady was switched to the centre.

In November, there were a few grumbles when McGeady was called off the bench in Vienna ahead of Horgan in the dying stages of a famous Irish victory.

There was a weight of goodwill behind the League of Ireland performer and there is always a desire to see a fresh face, whereas McGeady has always divided opinion. But it was hardly a surprise that Martin O'Neill turned to his one-time Celtic protege.

The Irish boss has always trusted McGeady and protecting a lead away from home in a World Cup qualifier was hardly the opportune moment to pitch in a debutant.

McGeady can play in a number of positions and he was also switched into a central playmaking role during last weekend's Championship encounter with Sheffield Wednesday, a game that marked his return from an injury absence.

So he may not necessarily be in direct competition with the new boy for the rest of this campaign. They actually linked quite well during Horgan's brief cameo. However, the evidence of the first 45 indicated that the star of Dundalk's European run might have to be patient as a slick Preston operation caused Arsenal all manner of problems.

The Everton loanee was the chief catalyst. Throughout his career, the Glaswegian has been accused of lacking end product to go with the fancy footwork. But he brought the stadium to life with a sensational pirouette in the seventh minute that left Ramsey for dead - perhaps a good omen for an Irish year that may be determined by battles with the Welsh - and executing the through ball that ultimately led to the highly regarded Callum Robinson opening the scoring.

With the crowd chanting his name, he grew in confidence as a disjointed Arsenal display allowed him the space to cut infield and make things happen. He enjoyed his one on one battles with the visitors' teenage right back Ainsley Maitland Niles and his oft derided decision making was quite good as he formed an effective partnership with Galway native Greg Cunningham, the left full who was Preston's player of the season last term.

They were powerless to prevent the second half turnaround with Arsene Wenger's charges grabbing hold of midfield and starving opportunities, and a draw would have been a fair reflection of the game. Defeat was harsh on Preston, but McGeady can still reflect with satisfaction on a game which showed there's life in the old dog yet.

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