City scored four for the time since Boxing Day 2008 as Ivan Sproule and co made sure new Preston manager Darren Ferguson had a first game to forget.
Held by enemies Cardiff in midweek, Johnson, and City, needed a result now more than ever.
Lewin Nyatanga returned from a ban to take a new role at left-back allowing Jamie McAllister to attempt to provide width in front of him. Sproule was restored to the right with Haynes pushed up to partner Maynard in attack.
And the changes reaped the results almost immediately.
With only 85 seconds on the clock, Haynes slid in Paul Hartley’s chaotic free-kick from close range to give us a flying start. It was our first goal we’d scored in the opening 10 minutes all season!
Reeling from the early set back, Preston hit back through pie-man Jon Parkin’s long ranger but it wasn’t long before the City doubled our lead on 11 minutes.
McAllister shaped to bend another free kick in from the right but instead slipped it across the box for Hartley to flick on for Maynard. His shot was saved but the rebound fell to Liam Fontaine to fire home from close range.
The set-piece was reminiscent of the famous ‘weasel’ routine that fooled Crystal Palace in the Play-Off Semi’s two years ago!
Darren Carter tried to spur on his side with a 30-yard strike that Gerken was equal to before Hartley tested Lonergan in the Preston goal from a similar way out.
The visitors then got back int he game through a brilliant piece of wing play from Chris Sedgewick down their right side on 27.
After turning Fontaine inside out, the ex-Rotherham wide man measured his cross to perfection for Chris Brown to nip in between both Carey and Nyatanga to head home unchallenged from 6 yards. Both centre-halves were guilty of ball watching as it was a soft goal to concede.
Eddie Nolan then fired narrowly over from a Ross Wallace corner as the Lilywhites sensed our vulnerability immediately after getting themselves back into the game.
City had Gerken to thank just before the break, not for the first time this season, as he kept out a dangerous Sedgewick guided volley to keep the scores level going into the break.
Having flown out the traps in the first half, McAllister was found by a perfect Maynard pass only for the full-back-come-winger to fluff his lines with only the keeper to beat whilst Sproule warmed Lonergan’s gloves following a jinking run and shot.
Sproule saw another effort deflect narrowly wide of the upright after another breathtaking burst of speed had taken him clear down the wing.
The third was coming and so it arrived on 58.
Hartley swang in another pin-point free-kick, this time from the left for Louis Carey to leap like a salmon and loop his header over Lonergan for 3-1.
Ten minutes later, the impressive and lively Haynes hobbled off to be replaced by Alvaro Saborio only for David Clarkson to enter the fray in place of Maynard shortly after that.
Saborio failed to connect with a bicycle kick from a clever piece of play by his fellow sub Clarkson and it was the Scot who was largely responsible for the match-clinching fourth on 90 minutes.
His astute pass picked out Evander Sno, who had literally been on the field a few seconds after replacing the talismanic Hartley, to arrow a 25-yard drive low into the bottom corner. The post it hit on the way through nearly snapped such was the venom of the Dutchman’s strike.
But there was still time for City to concede what has become the customary stoppage time goal as Ross Wallace‘s free-kick from wide on the right evaded everyone on it’s way to finding a way inside the far post.
Not that it mattered though as City recorded our first home win on a Saturday since the 2-1 triumph over Middlesbrough on 29th August!
CITY (4-4-2): Gerken, Orr, Carey, Fontaine, Nyatanga, Sproule, Hartley (Sno ’87), Skuse, McAllister, Haynes (Saborio ’68), Maynard (Clarkson ’80).
PRESTON (4-4-2): Lonergan, Nolan (Jones ’56), St. Ledger, Collins, Davidson, Sedgewick, Chaplow (Mayor ’70), Carter, Wallace, Parkin (Mellor ’61), Brown.
REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Sheppey, Kent)
Dean Gerken 6
Did what he to do well but will be slightly disappointed with the two goals conceded.
Bradley Orr 7
Defending well down the right side and even looked unusually dangerous on the overlap at times. Backed Sproule up to good effect as well.
Lewin Nyatanga 7
Didn’t look completely at home at left-back but went about his business in a quiet but effective way. Was resolute in defence against a tricky opponent in Sedgewick.
Liam Fontaine 7
I guess Johnson will have to bare his arse after Fonts scored his 2nd career goal for us today! Looked composed alongside Carey but maybe could’ve done slightly better in the air though.
Louis Carey 8
Real organiser at the back today and led from the front, as per usual. Defended well whilst getting forward to good effect and even scored a rare goal to cap off his day.
Jamie McAllister 7
Did a sound job on the left of midfield. Held his width ont he left flank and was a threat with his crossing and set pieces. Added much needed balance to the team in this new role.
Ivan Sproule 9
Today’s MOTM was a constant threat down the right wing. He terrorised Davidson, gave us width and generally tormented Preston like we know he should be doing on a regular basis.
Paul Hartley 9
Another immense performance from the Scot. If anything, he looked to revel in having widemen to pick out and picked up two good assists. Narrowly beaten by Sproule to MOTM,
Cole Skuse 8
Skusey was Hartley’s legs in effect and mopped up everything around him. Had the energy to defend and attack in equal measure whilst breaking play up along the way.
Nicky Maynard 7
Looked lively in the first half and was linking up very well with Haynes and the midfield. Was well marshalled by the North End defence on a day when his chances were at a premium.
Danny Haynes 8
Another excellent performance. He opened the scoring and ran himself into the ground for the team whilst looking lively throughout before hobbling off with injury.
Alvaro Saborio 5
Had a half hour to stake a claim but offered very little in truth.
David Clarkson 6
Good 10 minute cameo from Clarkson. He showed some good touches and displayed even better vision. We looked more likely to score again when he came on.
Barely had 5 minutes but FINALLY got a run out in his preferred central midfield role. Scored a thumping 4th goal to put the game to bed.
GARY JOHNSON – 7/10
At last Gary! He picked a well balanced side and gave them licence to attack. Everyone knows we have a talented squad that has been held back by the manager but hopefully today will usher in more of what is to come.
DARREN FERGUSON – 5/10
Hard to judge him when it’s first game at a new club as he doesn’t know his players.
Lets Hope It’s Not A False Dawn
First thing’s first. It was an excellent performance today which undoubtedly was as a direct result of picking players in their proper positions. Square pegs in square holes if you like.
But… one swallow doesn’t make a summer and Johnson needs to stick by this team selection and tactics if we’re to have truely turned the corner.
The proof will be in the pudding over the next few games I suspect.
Fans Voting With Their Feet?
There’s no doubt it’s been a cacophony of shite down the Gate recently but barely 13,000 came through the turnstiles today.
Fans are fed up with the drivel that has been on offer over the last 18 months or so but today gives us all hope that we have turned a corner so my advice would be get down the Gate and support the boys.
Hopefully Johnson and the chairman have got the point by now.