Categories
Opinion

Preston North End 3-1 Huddersfield Town: 5 Talking Points

Preston North End can go into the international break brimming with confidence after another dominant display.

Unbeaten in seven, Huddersfield were one of the Championship’s form teams going into Saturday’s game, but PNE dismantled them with ease, going three-nil up before the Terriers grabbed a 74th minute consolation.

The result left Alex Neil visibly delighted and speaking to Quest TV post-match, the Scotsman responded to recent speculation by saying:

If you look at what the lads give me on the pitch, there’s no way I could leave that.

A fitting tribute to a squad who have been adaptable, determined and ruthless so far this season.

Here are our 5 Talking Points from the game:

Stockley continues to shine.

Jayden Stockley is becoming a fixture in Alex Neil’s starting lineup and this is testament to his patience and hardwork.

The target man has had his fair share of criticism, some of which has been warranted, but that criticism was put on hold when the 26-year-old opened the scoring after just 4 minutes, stooping low to head the ball past Grabara and into the net.

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While it wasn’t a postage-stamp finish, it was a goal that Stockley has earned and it will give him that much needed confidence to begin finding the net more often.

The former Exeter hitman won more duels (13) than any other player and was a real nuisance during his 76 minutes played.

Yes, he can be theatrical at times, much like Joe Garner in a sense, but it’s an important part of his game and a factor which unsettles the opposition.

He draws cheap fouls, and when you have a set piece taker like Paul Gallagher in the side, winning cheap freekicks is crucial.

No Pearson or Johnson? No problem.

Once again, the Lilywhites showed adaptability in the middle of the park.

Ben Pearson, arguably Preston’s best player, was missing due to suspension, while top goalscorer Daniel Johnson was out through injury.

Instead of moaning though, Alex Neil rolled up his sleeves and made the necessary adjustments.

In came Ryan Ledson, a player with a reckless streak, but the fiery Liverpudlian is maturing well in the Championship and seemlessly slotted into the side.

The midfield anchor does not impose himself on the game like Pearson, but he can progress into the final third and pick out a difficult pass.

He is certainly improving and provides PNE with ample cover at the base of the midfield.

Paul Gallagher also returned to the starting XI and deservedly earned the MOTM accolade.

His pinpoint freekick which cannoned back off the post fell straight to Stockley who scored and in the second half, the veteran sealed the victory with a thumping penalty kick.

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The glorious Gallagher is the linchpin in this squad, not just because of his goal contributions and passing ability, but for his diplomacy too; intervening in situations and dealing with the referee.

Quality over quantity.

Huddersfield dwarfed Preston in terms of possession, boasting a 62.2% share of the ball.

But, Alex Neil’s men couldn’t have been anymore dominant.

PNE created double the amount of chances over 90 minutes and registered an xG (Expected Goals) total of 2.48, compared to Huddersfield’s 0.44.

The Terriers struggled to break Preston down in a game that lacked fluidity.

The referee’s whistle constantly punctuated the game, meaning neither side could gather much momentum. But PNE, as shown by the raw shot data, were deadly in and around the box – with triple the number of shots inside the box compared to Huddersfield.

This game, then, lacked scintillating passages of play, but the Lilywhites used the ball intelligently, choking the Terriers out of the game.

Penalty North End.

Saturday marked Preston’s eighth penalty of the season – that means we have won more penalties than Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Luton, Hull, Fulham and Bristol City combined this season.

Sheer fortune or all deservedly so?

We would opt for the latter.

Every penalty decision has been correct and therefore opposition fans should look to their own team’s poor defending before levelling the “luck” excuse at Preston.

Back to his old self.

Irish midfielder Alan Browne looks to be returning to the heady heights reached last season.

After a bitty few months, the relentless runner has started to recapture his identity, grabbing an assist at home to Blackburn and performing well at Charlton, before scoring his first goal of the season on Saturday.

It wasn’t a vintage Alan Browne goal, but it was an important finish nonetheless.

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The Irishman played a role in the build up, before sneaking in at the back post to rifle a first time effort which deflected off the keeper and into the net.

Browne has been overlooked in recent weeks, but he is certainly beginning to rise back to prominence.

Categories
Analysis

Fans in hysteria after remarkable win

“We’re going up”, replied a number of jubilant PNE fans to yesterday’s Three Word Review post on social media.

After every game we attempt to gauge the mood of the fans through our Three Word Review posts and yesterday was no different.

Once again, the Preston North End faithful were left in raptures, but despite a number of impressive results, yesterday’s triumph was the sweetest yet.

Not only did we beat our fierce Lancashire rivals, but we beat them in incredible fashion.

When the halftime whistle went, PNE were two goals down and looked set to slip out of the Play-Off places.

Just 45 minutes later, and we had fought back emphatically to beat Blackburn 3-2, soaring up the table and into second with 14 games played so far this campaign.

It was fairy tale stuff and while Blackburn were in a torrid spell of form heading into the game, you can never overstate the importance of a derby day win.

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When PNE fell behind after a mere 30 seconds, panic began to set in.

Blackburn piled forward in numbers, attacking the Preston box and geeing up the away following.

And on the 11th minute, our initial despondency was compounded further.

Blackburn stormed into a two goal lead as Sam Gallagher, who had failed to score in his previous twelve league appearances for Rovers, grabbed his second goal in just 11 first half minutes.

The fortuitous forward jinked his way clear in the box before stabbing the ball past Rudd and into the net.

The Lilywhites struggled to respond and looked devoid of a plan. The aggressive press of Blackburn was paying dividends and causing our back line numerous issues.

In a desperate bid to switch the momentum of the game, Alex Neil brought on, what would prove to be, an inspired substitution.

The much maligned Jayden Stockley replaced an ineffective Paul Gallagher and completely changed the complexion of the game.

PNE now had a focal point through which they could focus subsequent attacking play.

And after an expected halftime Alex Neil bollocking, Preston began to flaunt their usual characteristics.

On the 53rd minute, Blackburn stopper Christian Walton flapped at a deep cross, allowing Seani Maguire to head the ball back to Tom Barkhuizen who had the simple job of aiming the ball past Walton and into the net.

It was game on.

And, before we’d caught our breath after the first, PNE had a golden opportunity to draw themselves level.

When Alan Browne was hauled down in the box, the referee had no option but to point to the spot.

Up stepped Daniel Johnson, I mean who else would it be?

The iceman methodically placed the ball down before deceiving Walton and putting the ball into the bottom left corner.

Just when the excitement of the game seemed to be waning, Tom Barkhuizen struck the winner in emphatic style.

Stockley’s astute lay-off landed at the feet of Browne, who threaded the ball to Tom Barkhuizen on what looked to be a tight angle.

But Barkhuizen, who’d been hitting them nicely in training, according to assistant Frankie McAvoy, did not let the angle faze him, as he curled the ball around Walton and into the net.

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It was an incredible way to win what had been a captivating derby and despite Blackburn’s first substitution of the game taking effect immediately after Preston’s third, it was too little too late from Tony Mowbray, who was stubborn in his approach.

Preston have proved that they have an immense amount of determination and in a gruelling season, it’s vital that we maintain our attitude and continue to find different ways of grinding out results.

Charlton next and although they have won just one in five, Lee Bowyer is a talented manager who knows how to get the best out of limited resources.

It will definitely be another intriguing Championship test.

Categories
Opinion

Two Weeks Till The Deadline: Should We Be Concerned?

With exactly two weeks left before the transfer window slams shut and Alex Neil stating as recently as Tuesday in the LEP that “the fact is, nothing is happening at the moment” with regards to transfer activity, it’s safe to say that tensions are rising among the Preston faithful.

We are yet to spend a single penny on transfer fees, having made just two free transfers and while there is nothing wrong with signing players for free, challenging for promotion does require a smidgen of investment. Patrick Bauer signed for the Lilywhites following the end of his contract at Charlton, while veteran striker David Nugent joined for free to a chorus of nostalgic hurrahs.

Arguably, the pair were much needed additions, albeit for differing reasons.

Stalwart centre half Patrick Bauer joins in his prime, with plenty left to give and the sort of attributes Preston desperately lacked at times in the heart of defence.

Meanwhile, David Nugent, a former cult hero, brings an injection of experience to a youthful crop of Preston players. He’s also extremely hard-working, despite approaching his twilight years.

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But, it still feels as though we are missing a few parts if we are to make a real push for promotion and pre-season has only exemplified our need for strengthing before the season commences.

Now, I’m not a doom and gloom merchant and this certainly isn’t some slanderous attempt to attack the club. First off, I genuinely believe we have many of the ingredients to be a top Championship side. Players like Davies and Storey will only get better. Others such as Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop come into the side after lengthy layoffs as if they were new signings. While January additions Brad Potts, Jayden Stockley, Josh Ginnelly, Connor Ripley and Joe Rafferty have only given us a mere taste of their abilities, and we can look forward to seeing them progress in the 2019/20 campaign.

Currently, we do have defensive depth and a number of quality attacking options.

But, it is undeniable, and I think Alex Neil would agree here, that we are lacking in some areas.

In-between the sticks is one of these areas and it is common knowledge that a new keeper is on Alex Neil’s shopping list. Our two options are Connor Ripley, who’s minutes have been limited in a North End shirt, and Declan Rudd, a player who has often flirted in and out of favour.

While it would be unfair to disregard Connor Ripley already, his performance against Southampton certainly didn’t fill me with confidence. The stopper conceded three goals for the third time in a Preston shirt, the first coming after a horrendous kick ricocheted off Danny Ings before looping into the net, while the other two were perhaps more unavoidable.

Next we come to Declan Rudd, a keeper with incredible reflexes and agility, but just no confidence. Everytime Rudd is in-between the sticks, I cannot help but feel a powerful sense of dread. You just know he always has a howler in his game and it can easily see you lose points.

For these reasons, signing a new goalkeeper is crucial and this was something I talked about in a previous article outlining three potential targets after we missed out on Muric. You can read that here.

Christian Walton would have been my pick, but he has signed for Blackburn. However, there are a couple of other targets I looked at, Aaron Ramsdale and Alex Cairns, and they are both credible options – Ramsdale more so due to our tight budget.

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Next, we come to that elusive “Robinson replacement”. It’s a term being peddled frequently on social media and rightly so. Ginnelly is not that man, and we cannot expect an unreliable Barkhuizen to fill the Robinson void on the left wing.

This is why we need some definite investment on the left – a player who can score goals, dribble into dangerous areas and pick out key passes. Yeah, this isn’t easy to find, in fact, it’s rather difficult. But it’s a necessity if we are to challenge for the Play-Offs.

However, the potential pool of targets is drying up. Jamal Lowe is bound for Wigan in a deal worth around £2.6 million, while other players will be looking to decide their future destination very soon.

That includes Ashley Hunter, the proven League One attacker who has enjoyed a successful number of seasons at Fleetwood. He’s a player that both @DeepdaleDigest and @fromthefinney have pointed out our interest in, and I would firmly agree that Hunter would be a great addition.

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But the clock is ticking and Fleetwood may well be in no mood to sell, especially after showing Play-Off ambition with the signing of Paul Coutts. Fleetwood are no longer that tinpot club down the road and thanks to significant investment from a cash-rich owner along with a growing supporter base, they have firmly established themselves as an exciting EFL prospect.

If we were to try and sign Hunter at this late stage, we would have to be willing to stump up around £2 million.

I won’t be holding my breath.

In my opinion, a goalkeeper and a Robinson replacement are the bare minimum we need to be competitive. I’d say we could do with another striker, maybe a stronger left-back option allowing Earl to leave on loan and a flair player in the middle, but it just isn’t going to happen. Let’s face it.

Deals in football are hard to strike with a considerable number of parties needed to comply. We all know that.

Maybe Alex Neil was bluffing when he said nothing is happening, who knows. But it is unquestionable that there is still business needed to be done in the next 14 days.

Categories
Transfer Gossip

Could Preston Be Closing In on Bassala Sambou?

With reports claiming that Preston North End are interested in a free agent who has rejected fresh terms at his current club, could Bassala Sambou be our second summer signing?

The 21-year-old striker joined Everton from Coventry City in 2016, but after rejecting a new deal with the Toffees, Sambou is set to leave.

The German-born forward netted 11 goals in Everton’s title-winning U23 side, but is choosing to leave Merseyside in favour of a club who can offer him first team football.

Preston could be that side, and with a host of English and German clubs eyeing up a move for Sambou, Alex Neil must act fast if he is to secure the services of one of the brightest talents at U23 level.

Yes, he’s not experienced, I mean he’s quite the opposite, but clearly he has the potential at a senior level if Everton have already tried and failed to tie him down.

Sambou fits the mould of an Alex Neil number 9. He’s strong, quick and can effectively use the channels. The German also has plenty of flicks and tricks in his locker, along with the ability to play off the shoulder of the last man.

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With new signing Patrick Bauer stating this week that Alex Neil’s reputation for player development was a pivotal reason in making the move to PR1, it would be logical for compatriot Sambou to follow suit.

Alex Neil has repeatedly insisted that Preston require an injection of experience, but this does not discount youth entirely. Neil relishes a project and while Sambou has proved himself at U23 level, he is now determined to succeed at the next stage.

The German will have witnessed the development of Lukas Nmecha through the course of last season and may well see PNE as an attractive proposition due to Neil’s faith in youth.

On a Bosman, this would be a low-risk signing and fits in with our current transfer policy. Now, we still need experience, but Sambou, who scored 19 goals in 60 appearances for the Everton U23s, would be a real coup for free.

Categories
Transfer Gossip

Should Preston Bring Back Jordan Hugill?

A divisive question posed for a divisive player.

Jordan Hugill is footballer with unquestionable ability and experience, yet there still exists a fascinating debate surrounding his potential return to the North West.

Over the course of four years on the PNE books, Hugill underwent a complete transformation.

The Middlesbrough-born striker joined Preston for just £27,000, as an unknown lower league journeyman with a CV boasting the likes of Whitby, Consett AFC and Marske United.

But the scouts at Preston saw something in Hugill, they saw the potential to nurture a rough diamond into a household name.

When Jordan joined PNE in the summer of 2014, boss Simon Grayson said: “He’s young, he’s raring to go, hungry, he’s a strong, powerful player, and he’s got many attributes that will help us along the way this season and compliment the squad well.”

And that was exactly what we got.

After spending the majority of his first season at Preston out on loan, Hugill’s second season at the club saw his involvement increase, but only marginally.

While he made 29 appearances in the 2015/16 season, a meagre 8 of these were starts. But this can’t have been helped by something that happened in just his second appearance of that season.

Stadium MK was the setting and the 83rd minute was the time. Jordan Hugill came on as a substitute and within a matter of moments found himself trudging awkwardly back down the tunnel with Simon Grayson’s eyes furiously following him off the pitch.

What was going on inside his head I’ll never know, but when Hugill kicked out at Kyle McFadzean, I was left wondering what sort of a future he would have at the club. At that point, it seemed like we had signed a brainless thug.

How wrong myself and others would be.

In the 2016/17 season and the first half of the 2017/18 season (before his January sale) Hugill played 5,437 minutes of Championship football, scoring, on average, 1 goal every 3 games, while averaging 1 key pass per 90 minutes played.

But what statistics don’t always show, are a player’s stylistic attributes.

Hugill, for a big, bustling target man, was surprisingly mobile. He could accelerate rapidly over a short distance and had a direct running style.

The best example of this was away at Aston Villa in January of 2017. Hugill chested the ball down to his feet just beyond the halfway line, before bursting towards the box and unleashing a venomous effort into the top corner. He then went on to complete the comeback and earn his brace with a vintage Hugill header. [getty src=”632299182″ width=”594″ height=”439″ tld=”co.uk”]

Admittedly, this was him at his absolute best. At his worst, Hugill could be extremely profligate, and this was a common criticism of the 27-year-old – “He takes 10 chances to score 1” and “He couldn’t hit a barndoor” were slurs often bellowed from the stands.

And Wigan away was Hugill at his very worst, as he saw his initial penalty saved before the rebound, headed for the opposite corner, was also gathered by the keeper.

But it would be harsh to define a player by such isolated moments, as Hugill undoubtedly made an incredibly telling impact at Deepdale.

At Middlesbrough, his time cannot be described as a nightmare, nor a blistering success story. Hugill was dealt an unfortunate hand in a squad managed by a tactical buffoon. Tony Pulis often moaned at Hugill for going down too easily, but when you’re feeding off scraps, you have to throw yourself around a bit.

Many Boro fans complained about his poor goal return, scoring just 6 goals over 2061 minutes of football, but it’s always been known that he isn’t a prolific goal scoring striker. Instead he plays to his strengths. He works hard, bullies the opposition’s defence and brings others into play, which is why he enjoyed much more success under Alex Neil’s fluid attacking system.

At Preston, Hugill had the support of three attacking midfielders with a license to fill the half spaces and overload the wings. Hugill had less pressure and therefore a greater number of goal scoring opportunities.

But, can we actually afford to re-sign him?

Last summer, Alex Neil was quick to dismiss a potential Hugill return, stating: “the loan fee attached to the move and the wages which were attached are not in the same stratosphere of where we are at.”

However, West Ham may have dropped their valuation, especially after Hugill’s rather unspectacular loan spell at Middlesbrough. [getty src=”1085906534″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

With boss Pellegrini keen to offload the out-of-favour Teesider, it has been reported that his permanent transfer fee would be around the £3 million mark – the Hammers willing to accept a depreciation in value of around two thirds.

But, Preston still haven’t broken their club record transfer fee of £1.5 million, and that was splashed out on former Northern Ireland international David Healy way back in 2000.

Now, we did come close to matching that record with the signing of Brad Potts, but is it really likely that Preston will shell double their record fee on Hugill?

Probably not. But with Alex Neil given apparent “assurances” when he put pen to paper on a new three-year deal, could this mean he has been given the license to bring in a player like Hugill for a multi-million pound price tag?

The only other doubt that shrouds the Hugill speculation is wages. At West Ham, Hugill is on approximately £35,000 a week, something PNE would not be able to match. While Hugill would love regular game time at Preston, there are questions to be asked over whether he would be willing to take a significant wage cut when he could continue earning £35,000 a week for another 3 years.

If Hugill wants to return enough, he will be willing to sign permanently at Preston, even if it means a steep drop in wages. Otherwise, a season-long loan, which would cost around £1 million, may be the only feasible option.

So, could the player Alex Neil described as a “hurricane” find himself twisting back to Preston this summer, or will the financial implications be too off-putting?

Unfortunately I think it will be the latter.

But back to the original question: Do we need Jordan Hugill?

If the price is right, then yes. While it could be argued that Stockley will be our regular number nine next season, we do need an extra striker, especially with our injury record.

While Stockley is a clinical poacher with a knack for finding space and confusing defenders, Hugill is much quicker and is more willing to drop deep in order to link play and feed the flanks.

This is why we could easily have both Stockley and Hugill and use them interchangeably. Hugill could be used more effectively against teams that operate a high-press and require a more active frontman, whereas Stockley could be more appropriately used against teams that deploy a low block and therefore require a more clinical number nine who is better at finding space in the box.

But this will be completely irrelevant unless Trevor Hemmings decides it’s time to push the boat out in what is currently an extremely inflated player market.

As always, we’ll keep you updated, so go follow us on Twitter @TownEndTalk_ and on Instagram @prestonupdates

Categories
Opinion

Chris Maxwell: Does he Deserve to be Heading for the Exit?

Before you shoot me down in flames, just hear me out.

Now, I am not saying his exit is unjustified and I understand the reasoning of his critics, but was Chris Maxwell all that bad? Was he in fact our best keeper? And was he unfairly exiled?

With reports emerging that the Welsh sweeper is set to make the permanent move north of the border to Hibernian, it begs the question: How can we define his time in PR1?

In his three seasons at the club, Maxwell made a total of 76 appearances, keeping 23 clean sheets (30.26%). He also saved 5 out of the 14 penalties he faced and made, on average, 2.6 saves per 90 minutes played.

Comparatively, in his 52 appearances since joining PNE permanently in July 2017, Declan Rudd has kept 12 clean sheets (23.07%). He’s saved 3 out of the 4 penalities he has faced and made, on average, 2.75 saves per 90 minutes played.

But when you consider their stark stylistic differences, these statistics don’t actually mean an awful lot.

While Rudd is an immense shot-stopper, Maxwell offered something markedly different. [getty src=”631156104″ width=”594″ height=”386″ tld=”co.uk”]

A brave sweeper keeper with a bullish confidence, the 28-year-old was not only incredibly able on the ball, but he also supported a lean, athletic frame which meant he was quick off the mark and mobile in the air. He was not just a keeper, but an extra defender that allowed us to play a high line.

While the common criticism aimed at Rudd is that he is glued to his line, Maxwell was quite the opposite: making, per 90 minutes, 0.67 more goal line exits than Rudd.

In fact, he could often be too eager, charging to collect the ball like a faithful hound, even if it was just out of reach. There was certainly no glue left on Maxwell’s line.

For me, the odd mistake was permissable, so long as that odd mistake didn’t result in a goal and was a product of his style, rather than a lack of confidence.

At least you knew what he would do. You knew he’d be there and you knew he wouldn’t dither in moments of uncertainty.

While Rudd unsettles the backline with his frustrating acquiescence, Maxwell instills confidence in the defence, despite making the rare miscalculation.

Another criticism aimed at Maxwell was for his distribution and lack of willingness to go long, yet Maxwell actually made, per 90 minutes, more long passes than Rudd and had a marginally higher success percentage.

It would be easy to define Maxwell’s career by looking at his final moment. A moment of real madness. But it would be foolish to judge a man on 75 minutes out of 7,423.

Maxwell’s closing chapter came at Portman Road, when in the 75th minute, the Welshman charged off his line, perhaps more recklessly than usual, before wiping out Kayden Jackson on the edge of the pitch.

He received a second yellow card and his marching orders and as he sullenly crept down the tunnel, little did we know that this was the last time we would see him in the starting XI. [getty src=”1056907530,1056907532″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

Declan Rudd was reinstated between the sticks, and Maxwell, after his suspension, put back on the bench.

And even when Rudd endured a horrific run of form that culminated in the howler of the century, Maxwell was still refused entry.

Rudd looked stripped of confidence, while Maxwell was left on the sidelines with a reserve of confidence that was burning away wildly with no purpose.

From a footballing perspective, it made no sense. And I remember sitting in the car listening to former goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly Jr. live on Radio Lancashire, blasting Alex Neil for his decision to completely exile Maxwell.

We will never know what went on behind the scenes, if anything at all. But it seemed like Maxwell was coerced into leaving despite staking a brilliant claim to the number one gloves.

Chris joined Charlton on loan in a move that saw him feature for the grand total of 0 minutes. I mean, at least he got a promotion medal.

Since then, Maxwell has become the forgotten man with no future under Alex Neil, when in reality, he was and remains at this moment our best goalkeeping option.

I’ve seen better, but there are plenty worse than Chris Maxwell at this level.

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Categories
Opinion

The Future Ownership of Preston North End

When I sat there watching the turmoil and trouble unfold at a fellow founding member of the football league, I began to ask myself: Could this happen to Preston North End? A matter of weeks ago, Bolton Wanderers found themselves staring into a deep abyss. The proud Lancashire side were just moments away from liquidation, despite spending most of the 21st century in the top flight of English football.

Bolton were a club who had tasted the riches at the top, they had enjoyed the service of great players and even competed in Europe against the likes of Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade. But within the space of a decade, the demise was complete. Bolton had fallen into the third tier of English football and found themselves placed under administration. While the situation at Preston is markedly different, the future ownership of the club is a very real concern. [getty src=”1085875346″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

And with today seeing the appointment of Preston’s first official Chairman since 2012, does this show Trevor Hemmings’ desire to shift the control of the club to his heirs? Craig Hemmings, Trevor’s son, was given this role and while Peter Ridsdale remains an ‘advisor’, Craig has been appointed in a move that might mean nothing for our immediate future, but it does indeed show that at least one of Trevor’s offspring has an ambition to become increasingly involved in a club he will partly own in the near future.

Even though Trevor Hemmings remains the current owner of Preston North End after acquiring a controlling interest in the club during the summer of 2010, I cannot help but wonder how long his ownership will last and who inevitably will take control of our club. While it seems likely that his children will become the primary stakeholders in Preston North End, it is unknown whether they will fund the club to the same degree as is currently the case or whether the club will instead become part of a consortium owned by another cash-rich tycoon.  

Assuming Trevor’s children become the primary stakeholders of the club, it could be expected that the turnover of the club will be used to fund the purchase of new players and respective wages without running up excessive debt as has been the case for almost a decade under the ownership of Trevor Hemmings. The turnover of the club is approximately £7.3m and will likely rise over the next few years depending on how future events pan out.

Trevor Hemmings previously saved the club from a HMRC winding-up order in 2010 which could have forced the club into compulsory liquidation. Hopefully, Trevor`s children will be able to deal with similar problems which could crop up in the club’s future. The biggest concern is whether one or more of Trevor’s children will sell their respective stakes in Preston North End. While it is possible that potential new stakeholders will be able to fund the club effectively, there is always the chance that funding targets may not be fulfilled. It is equally possible that Trevor’s children will not put the necessary funds into the club to keep it in good financial shape since the turnover to wage ratio is currently 100%. The club also experienced a pre-tax loss of £4.4m during the 2015/2016 season which quite clearly exemplifies the financial commitments needed to prevent the club from going into additional debt. It was also reported during the 2015/16 season that the club had received £28.1m in loans.

If Preston North End is sold by Trevor`s children, it is hard to predict exactly who will own the club. Football clubs are typically owned by a single individual or a group of stakeholders who may own a consortium or a conglomerate. For instance, Milton Keynes is owned by Pete Winkelman who also owns a property development consortium. While many football clubs are owned by wealthy individuals or corporations, most run up excessive debt which can prove extremely damaging to the prospects of the club if not eventually dealt with. [getty src=”613616640″ width=”594″ height=”403″ tld=”co.uk”]

Southend United were presented with a winding-up order in January due to unpaid taxes and it doesn’t look like it has been settled as of today. How are we supposed to know if the new owner of Preston North End will curtail any financial problems in the future or will proliferate the relatively small debt the club has currently?

Last season, Birmingham City were deducted nine points after incurring losses of £48.8m between the years of 2015 to 2018. And it was reported last year that most clubs in the Championship spent 99% of their revenue on club wages in a desperate bid to get to the Premier League. Given the financial pressures that clubs face nowadays, it is almost certainly not going to get any better when more and more historic Premier League sides drop down to the Championship and desperately splash bucket loads of cash in an attempt to win the financial wacky races of the second tier. It seems more than likely that Preston North End could become a victim of financial difficulties in the future that are beyond resolvable if the new owner proves to be unreliable.      

Only time will tell what the outcome of the club’s ownership will be. While we won`t have to worry about what will happen now, we will have to worry about what direction the club will head in the future.  

Categories
Analysis

What Can We Expect From Jayden Stockley Next Season?

When we announced the signing of Jayden Stockley from Exeter City in the January transfer window, I think it’s safe to say that there was plenty of excitement.

I mean, here are just some of your responses:

But with this excitement came a good dose of realism. After all, Stockley was making a considerable leap of two divisions while also being tipped to pick up the mantle of Jordan Hugill. People understood that Stockley was an exciting signing, but also one with great potential to disappoint.

Cherry picking players from the lower leagues has been the practice of Preston North End for years now and it is a low risk policy that has come with varying degrees of success.

Jordan Hugill is prime evidence of just how successful our penny-pinching policy has been. The Middlesbrough born brute joined our ranks from Port Vale for £27,000 as a relatively unknown quantity. But after a couple of invaluable loan spells along with 100 league appearances for Preston, Hugill was made an irresistible offer, to the tune of £10,000,000, to play in the Premier League for West Ham. This was a move nobody could begrudge him of.

But our low-risk policy is “low-risk” for a reason. It has also resulted in the recruitment of plenty of deadwood, as for every Jordan Hugill, you also sign a Liam Grimshaw. But Grimshaw isn’t the only misfire. Kevin O’Connor, Andy Boyle, Graham Burke and Eoin Doyle are all examples of budget signings that have failed to impress at PNE.

Yes, our transfer policy can be frustrating due to its hit-and-miss results, but taking a chance on lower-end players is undoubtedly the most profitable method of ensuring the football club’s sustainability in the long-run.

Now, although we have only witnessed him play 711 minutes of Championship football, I believe there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Jayden Stockley will be the next Jordan Hugill, so to speak, rather than a Liam Grimshaw-esque flop.

What do the stats tell us?

Stockley is clinical: In his 711 minutes of Championship football, Stockley had five shots on target, four of which found the back of the net. Every goal that the experts said Stockley would score, he did and this is displayed neatly in his matching numbers of expected non-penalty goals (NPxG) and the number of non-penalty goals he scored.

At Exeter it was a similar story, albeit over a much larger volume of games.

In the 2018 calendar year, Stockley bagged more goals (29 including the play-offs) than any other top four tier player. He also scored more headed goals than any other player in the top European leagues.

His xG performance (which is basically a metric underlining a player’s ability to finish chances) was quite a considerable amount higher than the average striker, and while Stockley completes few assists, he does make plenty of successful passes and deep completions. But this lack in creativity is expected from a poacher and is offset by the creativity of the three attacking midfielders behind him.

Stockley leaps like a salmon: At Exeter, Stockley was involved in more aerial duels than any other striker, winning approximately 90% of these aerial battles. And at Preston, Stockley has already began to show flashes of this aerial brilliance as he won just over 80% of his aerial duels.

Stockley has a classy touch: In our penultimate game of the season at home to Sheffield Wednesday, Stockley flaunted his classy touch. He enjoyed 56 touches of the ball and had a passing success rate of 73%. He also won the most duels in the game. The 25-year-old made a real nuisance of himself in the way that he would latch onto different defenders and seek out half spaces. He also scored a trademark Stockley header with a deft finish that Exeter fans will be all too familiar with.

Just how much did Exeter fans rate him?

Any striker that bangs goals in for fun is bound to be highly rated by the fans, but I wanted to find out a bit more. Did Exeter fans think Stockley could make the leap? How was he used at Exeter? What were his greatest strengths? And were there any notable weaknesses to his game?

So, I put those questions to established Exeter City fanpage @exetercity1904 in an attempt to delve a little deeper into the Stockley story:

“I was shocked when he joined PNE but at the same time I wasn’t. We knew it would be a real struggle to keep hold of him as he was too good for us but it was quite surprising when he made the step to the Championship.

I thought he would have joined a team in League One challenging for promotion and that the Championship may have been a step too far and that he wouldn’t have got the game time he wanted. I definitely thought he could make the step up in terms of quality because a goal scorer is always a goal scorer. So, with better players around him I thought it would only be a good thing for him and you.

His greatest attributes at City were his aerial threat and how deadly he was in front of goal. Even though he may have had a quiet game up until the 70th minute, you always knew that whenever Stockley was on the pitch, he would have at least one clear chance to win us the game or get us back into the game.

Paul Tisdale used him as a lone striker and so did Taylor and I feel that’s what he enjoyed the most. The responsibility of being the only man and the one everyone looked at for the goals.

As a League Two striker he was almost all you could ask for and it was difficult to see any weaknesses in his game. But if you were to be really critical you would say his pace. He lacks pace which is a weakness if you want him running onto the ball, but if you give him a chance in front of goal he will put it away 9 times out of 10!” [getty src=”901860496″ width=”594″ height=”359″ tld=”co.uk”]

Is Stockley the Answer?

With all the talk of Jordan Hugill returning and the need for a prolific goalscorer, it is easy to overlook what you already have in your arsenal.

While it remains to be seen whether Stockley can deliver the goods at this level for the duration of a full season, I think we need to give him a run of starts at the beginning of the season as the lone striker. A chance to prove himself and to excite fans.

Statistics do not lie and while they cannot be used in isolation, they certainly point to an exciting trend. Stockley, at both Exeter and in his stint with PNE, has proven to be clinical and a real handful for defenders with his acute movement. He could well be the answer to our goal scoring predicament upfront and this begs the question – Do we need to re-sign Jordan Hugill for such a significant financial outlay?

The answer is complex and open to debate, but personally I would like to see the faith of Alex Neil firmly placed in Jayden Stockley. While Hugill and Stockley both offer something different, there is only one number nine spot available. So, either we bring in Hugill and offload Moult (as Maguire can be utilised on the right wing) or we stick with what we’ve got and focus our resources elsewhere. But that’s a debate for another day…

As always, we’ll keep you updated, so go follow us on Twitter @TownEndTalk_ and on Instagram @prestonupdates

Categories
Transfer Gossip

Preston North End Close in on First Signing

Preston North End’s need for a central defender is no secret.

With Paul Huntington and Tom Clarke both on the wrong side of thirty, PNE cannot afford to rely on two ageing combatants in a grueling and competitive Championship season.

Ben Davies and Jordan Storey have youth and potential on their side, meaning both, providing they stay injury-free, should be able to play 40+ games per season.

But if either sustain a knock in training or a drop in form, we will need an experienced head to steady the ship.

This is why Patrick Bauer would be a real coup on a free transfer with his contract due to expire later this month at Championship new boys Charlton Athletic. [getty src=”664593576″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

With the LEP reporting that Preston North End are set to announce their hotly anticipated first summer signing, Patrick Bauer is a name being whispered rather strongly at the moment.

Charlton have desperately attempted to tie Bauer down, but their wage offer has been far short of the financial packages being proposed elsewhere.

The Addicks reportedly offered the 26-year-old German just £5,000 per week, while Preston, Blackburn and Wigan have all agreed to give Bauer more.

But today, news has emerged from reputable blog ‘Deepdale Digest‘ that Preston are closing in on the deal, much to the frustration of Blackburn Rovers.

Considering there would be no transfer fee involved, this would be a brilliant piece of business by PNE.

Bauer ticks plenty of the boxes set out by Alex Neil.

He’s an experienced operator who started out his career with German side Stuttgart in 2009.

In 2013, he made the move to top flight Portuguese side CS Maritimo, before then making the transfer to Charlton in July of 2015, where he went on to make 19 Championship appearances.

The towering German has made over a century of appearances for Charlton, but last season was possibly his best yet.

The 6’4″ defender was a key component in a defence that conceded a mere 40 goals last season (only Barnsley conceded fewer at 39).

Bauer started 35 matches in the 2018/19 season, before going on to cement himself in the history books with a last minute Play-Off Final goal that took Charlton to the Championship. [getty src=”1151830944,1151822130,1151834396,1151809467″ width=”594″ height=”331″ tld=”co.uk”]

But to find out a bit more about Bauer, I spoke to @cafcmedia, a Charlton Athletic fanpage on Instagram.

Here’s what they had to say:

Q – What are Bauer’s strengths and weaknesses?

A – Patrick Bauer is a hard working player. His main strength is probably his strength! He is good on the ball and sometimes his decision making is unreal. He doesn’t actually have weaknesses in my opinion. Sad to see him go as he has been blinding. I wish him all the success in the future.

Q – Was he your best defender last season?

A – It’s a hard one really. Jason Pearce got injured then Pat had to step up. If we were to lose him he is replaceable but it would be a big loss.

Q- Does Bauer have the potential to improve?

A- Yes, he does have potential, but certainly no higher than the Championship.

Q- How are his fitness levels?

A- He is fit enough to play for the whole 90, definitely.

Q- How did your defence play last season with Bauer in it?

A- There was usually a back four that controlled the game when we were in possession.

Clearly Bauer was a big player for Charlton and although a deal has not been done, Preston will be keen to get this one over the line before another club swoop in.

As always, we’ll keep you updated, so go follow us on Twitter @TownEndTalk_ and on Instagram @prestonupdates

Categories
Opinion

5 Areas Alex Neil Needs to Address Before the 2019/20 Season

Injuries

Preston had a horrible injury record in the 2018/19 season with 11 senior players missing at least 5 consecutive games through injury. 5 key players in the shape of Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire, Brandon Barker, Louis Moult and Andrew Hughes all suffered long-term hamstring injuries.

It’s evident that North End have an issue with hamstring injuries and the club will undertake an injury audit over the summer. “Soft-tissue muscular ones is where our focus is, we are looking at hamstrings” said Neil. Keeping the squad relatively injury free will be key in ensuring North End’s form remains consistent. [getty src=”1130264836″ width=”594″ height=”430″ tld=”co.uk”]

Callum Robinson’s Contract

Robinson’s current contract runs out at the end of next season and securing the forward on a long-term deal will be a priority for North End. If this can’t be done they will probably look to sell.

However, the Irish international’s importance cannot be overstated with 12 goals in 27 league games in the 2018/19 season making him the club’s joint top-scorer, despite missing four months of the season with a hamstring injury. It could be wiser to hold him to his contract while giving his eventual successor game time. Whatever the decision, it’s key it’s made quickly. [getty src=”1138258213″ width=”594″ height=”523″ tld=”co.uk”]

Ben Pearson’s Discipline

Last season Pearson missed 26% of North End’s games due to suspension but when available, his influence is unarguable. PNE won 42% of games he started and only 26% of those he didn’t.

At this point, Pearo’s reputation precedes him meaning he’ll have to be extra careful to avoid suspensions next season. After receiving his 10th yellow at Millwall in February Neil said “He draws attention to himself… I think referees need to take a view on the challenge itself rather than who’s dishing it out.” Keeping Pearson’s head down and available will be key if PNE are to mount a credible play-off challenge. [getty src=”1074582002″ width=”594″ height=”550″ tld=”co.uk”]

The Goalkeeper Department

The Lilywhites have an unsustainable 5 goalkeepers on their books – Declan Rudd, Connor Ripley, Chris Maxwell, Michael Crowe and Matthew Hudson. Maxwell will probably leave on a permanent deal while one of Crowe or Hudson will leave on loan to gain experience, with the other remaining as third choice.

This leaves Rudd and Ripley to battle it out for the number 1 spot. Both will be given an equal chance in pre-season but if neither show signs of improvement questions must be asked of the coaching staff. No goalkeeper at the club has significantly improved since Alan Kelly Jr. abruptly left as goalkeeper coach in August 2017. [getty src=”1096598786″ width=”594″ height=”419″ tld=”co.uk”]

A Goal-Scorer

You don’t necessarily need a 20-goal-a-season striker to get promoted from the Championship but it certainly doesn’t hurt. In the 2014/15 season Joe Garner’s 26 goals fired North End to promotion from League One.

Of North End’s strikers Jayden Stockley seems the most likely to fill this void. He scored 35 goals in 66 games for Exeter in League Two before joining Preston in January 2019. Since then, he’s scored 4 goals for North End which represents a decent return considering he’s not had a consistent run. Next season is a big opportunity for the 25-year-old and if he doesn’t take it expect North End to invest in January.

(Graph showing the effectiveness of Stockley’s shots and he rates very highly, suggesting that we can expect big things next season)

Categories
Analysis

2018/19: Crunching the Numbers

It’s fair to say it has been a bit of a rollercoaster season for North End this year; with emotions ranging from distress at the thought of a relegation scrap in October, to the delight of the prospect of a potential play off push, and then the subsequent agony of missing out on them. I wanted to do this season’s excitement justice in the only way I know how, by picking out my favourite statistics.

Keep it solid for the first ten lads!

You can almost hear Alex Neil’s harsh tones reverberating around the walls of the Deepdale changing rooms just before kick off on a Saturday afternoon – ‘Nothing stupid in the first ten minutes lads, we don’t want to concede an early goal!’ Admittedly, I would hope Neil’s pre-match team talks are a bit more tactical than reeling off Sunday league clichés but if that’s what he had been saying then the North End defence were clearly listening. PNE were the only team in the Championship last season not to concede a goal in any game in the opening ten minutes, and they only conceded once in the first 20 minutes all season. To put that into context, the four teams that finished in the play-offs conceded a total of 31 goals between them in the first ten minutes. Obviously, it goes without saying that goals conceded in the remaining 80 minutes is the statistic that needs to be improved for next season, but this statistic is more than just an interesting quirk. At the heart of defence, 23-year old player of the season Ben Davies partnered 21-year old young player of the year Jordan Storey, who have both shown unbelievable maturity this season playing in a position that usually takes years to master. This statistic suggests that perhaps issues with concentration result in a higher proportion of goals being conceded in later stages of the games, but I have no doubt they will improve further with experience and the future of North End’s defence looks extremely bright. [getty src=”1023196124″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

He only scores worldies

Alan Browne has won the goal of the season award at North End for two seasons in a row now and is deservedly getting a reputation for scoring a lot of cracking goals. The statistics back this up too, he scored 12 goals from open play this season with a total expected goal (xG) statistic of just 5.58; in effect, he scored twice as many goals as the fancy algorithms that calculate xG thought he should have done. In fact, he outperformed his expected goals total to a greater extent than any other player in the division who scored more than 10 goals from open play. While it is great to have a player capable of scoring eye-catching goals, I think the value of this is sometimes under-looked. Browne has a wonderful ability to finish difficult chances, finding goals where lesser players wouldn’t even think to look for them and he has often been the difference for PNE in tight games with few clear-cut chances. While the search for the mythical 20-goal a season striker at North End continues, it would be devastating to lose such an important source of goals from midfield in the current transfer window and extremely difficult to replace. [getty src=”1025816766,1025816786″ width=”594″ height=”381″ tld=”co.uk”]

Don’t dive in!

It is difficult to argue with the fact that Ben Pearson has been one of Preston’s most important assets over the last couple of seasons but as this season went on, he has received less and less patience from fans over his disciplinary record. Having received 14 yellows and 3 red cards, he has spent a frankly ridiculous 12 games suspended this season. In all, Pearson has been unavailable for over a quarter of Preston’s championship games this season (26%). Pearson has always played his football on the edge, a combative midfielder who gets under the skin of opposition fans and players alike. However, for the PNE faithful, he doesn’t appear to have got that balance quite right this season, overstepping the mark on multiple occasions and paying the price repeatedly.

For those that argue it is a part of his game we must accept, I’m afraid I don’t agree. Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United, deployed in central defensive midfield for the majority of the season, played his way into the Championship team of the year this season having once had similar disciplinary issues earlier on in his career. He was sent off twice in 33 appearances in the 2016/17 season but has since been sent off just once in 85 appearances, successfully balancing the physical nature of the position with the maturity of a player in a team competing at the top. He looks very likely now to move to the Premier League during the current transfer window and I find it hard to believe that he would have successfully hit these performance levels had he been unable to address his disciplinary record. I can’t help but wonder if Pearson, a player who won the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year award at Manchester United in 2013 and is one of the best CDMs in the division, would be in Phillips’ position if he cut down the number of cards he received. Not only did it hinder North End’s attempts to reach the play-offs this season, but his disciplinary issues are the only reason I think the ‘bigger’ clubs haven’t wanted to risk buying him. [getty src=”1025875628″ width=”594″ height=”388″ tld=”co.uk”]

In summary, these statistics are just a small part of the tapestry that was North End’s colourful and intriguing 2018/19 season. However, they highlight the importance and the promise of our young central defensive partnership, the impressive goal-scoring ability that Browne brings to our midfield and the desperate need for Pearson’s discipline to improve.

Categories
Opinion

End of Season Review

The dust has settled after another season of highs and lows and now it’s time to look back on this rollercoaster campaign and look forward to what the 2019/2020 season brings.

After being in touching distance of the play offs only six weeks ago – sitting in 7th place and only missing out by goal difference – what went so wrong to make us finish 14th?

First of all, you could argue many reasons as to why the league position does and also does not reflect the season we have had. As we went into the final international break of the season, we were on a 12 game unbeaten run and looked like we could take on anyone in the league, a little good fortune was needed at times but it was all we deserved after the disastrous luck we have been having this season with injuries.

When you’re on such a good run, the last thing you want is to go on an international break. But with key players coming back from injury I was in hope that an extra week would have given the players time to freshen up and get fully fit for the trip down to the Majeski. However, it wasn’t to be and the season seemed to dwindle out with a lacklustre ending. [getty src=”1133770770,1133770757,1133830972″ width=”594″ height=”366″ tld=”co.uk”]

Did we fall at the first hurdle?

We were always bound to go through a sticky spell at some point in the season, every team does. However, after a comfortable opening day win over QPR, a 10 game winless run followed. With only 7 points from the first 11 games, we were bottom of the table and in an early season relegation battle. It was uncertainty in our starting 11 and too much chopping and changing that resulted in a lack of team coherence. Too many mistakes were made and easy goals were leaked which prevented us from getting our season started as we constantly looked like we were going to concede.

The club have plenty of lessons to learn in regards to getting ready for the beginning of the season. This isn’t the first time a slow start to the season has prevented North End from achieving the playoffs. Only two seasons ago in the 2016/17 campaign, we also had a poor start and end to the season, with 6 defeats in the first 8 and 5 defeats in the last 8. Two important parts of the season, the beginning and the end, are preventing the club from finishing in the top 6.

In retrospection, it’s perhaps time the club reviews how we prepare for August and with no disrespect, playing Bamber Bridge, Chorley etc is not going to prepare us for a Championship season. We need to be playing teams on a similar level to get the lads properly prepared, assuring we take care of any transfer business as soon as possible – like we did in January – instead of leaving it late. This should be resolved this season with the moving of the deadline day to the 8th of August.

Finally, a review of the fitness regime is needed. Injuries have plagued the season to a ridiculous extent, I don’t ever remember us suffering so many in one season and considering we don’t have a large squad with plenty of depth, we cannot afford to continue to the intensity of training that’s evidently causing masses of injuries. [getty src=”1130264840,1130264836,1130264848″ width=”594″ height=”391″ tld=”co.uk”]

Season Highs

Once we got our second win of the season, 4-0 at home to Wigan, we finally began to kick-off our campaign with only one loss in the 12 games taking us up to December. One of the biggest highlights has to be the 4-1 win at home to Blackburn Rovers. Robinson was bang on form that day but unfortunately suffered an injury keeping him out of action for the next four months; probably our most detrimental injury of the season. Although after a small blip over Christmas, another great run of form began with 8 wins and 4 draws in 12 games: we were the inform team going into the international break.

During this period more highs came with big away wins at QPR and Stoke as well as taking another 3 points from Rovers as we took an incredible 7,000 strong to Ewood Park. One of my favourite highlights was the performance and 3-1 win against league leaders Norwich. Deepdale is always great under the floodlights, but on that night it made me feel like we could take on any team in the league. It was the first time during the season I really started to believe we could reach the playoffs.

I think the final high in the season came when Alex Neil signed a three-year contract. Regardless of how the season ended, it shows he has belief in the squad and hopefully a promise of money to spend for that important promotion push next season.

After the run-up to the West Brom game, with all the rumours flying around, most people thought it was already a done deal and Neil kept stating to the press it was completely out of his hands. After making the decision to stay at Deepdale and continue the project here, it can only make you think that he’s been promised some money to spend in summer. Hopefully we can act quickly and get the team gelling in time for the beginning of next season. [getty src=”1136743715,1136918845,1136720520″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

Final outlook and onwards to August

After a very contrasting season, there are definitely many positives as well as negatives to take away. Neil has signed a new contract and looks a lot more assured of his starting 11 than he did for the first few months of the season; especially in the defensive department. We have a young squad growing in strength and ability, but where else does the club need to continue to strengthen?

Many of the issues being raised by the fans are in the recruitment process, from the youth to the experienced pros. For me in particular, I’d say the injury concern is massive and needs resolving this summer. We cannot afford another season of multiple injury issues as we simply don’t have enough depth across the board.

Another big issue is the relationship shared between club and fans. Home attendances have been poor for much of the season, despite the two great runs we went on and many believe the club isn’t doing enough to work on this. The match day experience is lacking and finally, Pearson’s disciplinary record needs to improve – missing a quarter of the season through suspension is simply unacceptable.

At this stage, we can only sit back for the next three months and see what happens over the summer. Will Neil act quickly and sign some seasoned pros? Or will North End continue their tradition of digging for gems in the lower leagues? Whatever happens over the summer, we can all continue to back the lads come August. [getty src=”1129393323,1129393334,916645306,1129363146,1129363129″ width=”594″ height=”382″ tld=”co.uk”]

Categories
Transfer Gossip

Free Agents Preston North End Should Consider

Oh yes – It’s that time of the year again.

The time of year when people claim to be “ITK” and the name David Nugent gets whispered ironically, but also earnestly as people drool over the potential heroic homecoming of past relics. [getty src=”1023409824″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”co.uk”]

It’s only May and already we’re seeing transfer rumours whirling around and the names of free agents bandied about.

But which names are realistic and which free agents could actually bolster the ranks of Preston North End?

Here are a few names, both realistic and maybe completely out of the realms of possibility, that I quite fancy:

Defenders

Frederik Nielsen (Sheffield Wednesday)

The towering 6 ft 7 in Danish international youth defender would add much needed height to a relatively diminutive Preston North End side. At the age of just 21, Nielsen has little first team experience under his belt, making him a relatively unknown quantity. Former Wednesday boss Jos Luhukay gave the Dane a number of chances, however, since Christmas and the departure of Luhukay, Nielsen has fallen out of favour. He first landed on these shores back in 2014 when he joined Nottingham Forest from Danish side Viborg. Admittedly, this one is a bit of a wildcard.

Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)

When Aston Villa announced that legendary fullback Alan Hutton would be leaving Villa Park, there was an outpouring of emotion from the Villa faithful. Barring a few short loan spells, Hutton has largely been an ever-present figure since he joined Villa in 2011. His loyalty and immense work-ethic has earned him the nickname “Scottish Cafu” and while the 34-year-old fullback certainly isn’t getting any younger, he has a wealth of experience that fellow Scot Alex Neil could really tap into. [getty src=”1065108932,1065108176,1074662290″ width=”594″ height=”398″ tld=”co.uk”]

Jake Bidwell (QPR)

Formerly of Everton, QPR left-back Jake Bidwell has plenty of Championship experience, but could well be looking for a fresh start after an “unsettling” season in Central London. The 26-year-old still has plenty to give and will be looking to recapture his form of past campaigns. A solid and dependable player, Bidwell enjoyed a five year stint with Brentford, captaining the side on a number of occasions. An ideal replacement for Josh Earl who could be poised for a loan move.

Midfielders

Paul Coutts (Sheffield United)

A former North End captain who lost his way under the tenure of Graham Westley, Coutts received a text from Westley in the summer of 2012 telling him he was not part of his plans. Unsurprisingly, the midfielder then left for Derby County, where he was later named the 37th best player in the 2012–13 Championship by the Actim Index. Coutts has had his problems, granted. But at the age of 30 and with bags of experience at Sheffield United, the Scot ticks plenty of Alex Neil’s boxes. Coutts leaves the Blades as a legend thanks to his pivotal role in their promotion season and boss Chris Wilder revealed that releasing Coutts was “One of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make as a manager”. This is just testament to the telling impact Coutts has had at Bramall Lane, with some fans lauding him as one of the best midfielders they’ve had in decades when at his peak. Clearly the injury is a problem, but if Coutts can regain fitness and form, then he would be the experienced cog that we are after.

Jacob Butterfield (Derby County)

A player with plenty of unfulfilled potential. Butterfield was bought by Derby for a ridiculous fee back in 2015, however a glance at his CV reveals an impressive career. A central midfielder, Butterfield has become the forgotten man at Pride Park, but a move to Preston could reignite his confidence and help him recapture his hidden ability. When inform, Butterfield has the ability to make a team tick with his ball retention and passing range. Oh, and he also has the odd screamer in his locker. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37YMgUEnkY4&w=560&h=315]

Josh Vela (Bolton Wanderers)

After the 25-year-old attacking midfield starlet announced his exit from Bolton last week, the vultures have already started circling. Vela has spent the past 17 years with Wanderers, making his professional debut for the club in April 2012, when Bolton were a Premier League outfit. Since then he has been utilised as both a fullback and an attacking midfielder, with many proclaiming the latter is his optimum position. Awarded The Bolton News Readers’ Player of the Year trophy during the reign of Neil Lennon and scoring 10 goals to help fire Bolton back to the Championship, Vela still has plenty to give and could kick start his career under the guidance of Alex Neil. He has featured a mere 19 times this season after rumours of a fallout with Phil Parkinson materialised. He is rated by many Bolton fans, while others believe he is League One standard at best. Surely worth a punt on a free?

Joe Aribo (Charlton Athletic)

The 22-year-old all-action midfielder has been instrumental in Charlton’s success this season. The Londoner has contributed 9 goals and 3 assists from midfield, something which has caught the attention of many clubs including Arsenal. With the knowledge that his current contract expires in the summer, Aribo is a name that Alex Neil should consider, especially if talisman Callum Robinson departs. Addicks fans are begging Aribo to stay at The Valley, but if Lee Bowyer’s side miss out on promotion, a move to the Championship may well be on Aribo’s mind. [getty src=”1023663038″ width=”594″ height=”425″ tld=”co.uk”]

Nick Powell (Wigan)

Although the talented midfielder’s contract is up, Powell is unlikely to up sticks and move to Preston. Nonetheless he would be a real coup on a free if the wages are right. The Latics will be desperate for Powell to pen a new deal, but PNE could swoop in for the No.10 who looks set to keep on improving.

Strikers

Nick Blackman (Derby County)

Big, mobile and experienced, but hasn’t featured for the Rams competitively since May 2017. After a turbulent couple of seasons the 29-year-old has made a name for himself on loan at Spanish side Sporting Gijon: one of Spain’s best supported clubs outside La Liga. And while Frank Lampard has given Blackman little consideration, a fellow Championship club could benefit from the striker’s knowledge and ability. He can also play on the right, and can be potent when cutting in on his left peg, it’s just a case of finding consistency. Worth a gamble if he’s willing to take a wage cut.

Tom Eaves (Gillingham)

During his past two seasons as a Gillingham striker, Eaves has netted an impressive 40 goals across 97 games. But with the season now at a close, Eaves has in-explicitly expressed his desire to move on: “ultimately I will just do what is best with me and my partner.” The 6 ft 5 in target man would be more of a throwback to Jordan Hugill, giving us a dominant physical presence in the box with his knack for headers and ability to find pockets of space. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIKrS8_kvBI&w=560&h=315]

Categories
Opinion

Preston North End Squad Verdict

By @ConnorJWhitley,
Now the playoffs are out of reach, North End’s season has the familiar feeling of mid-table nothingness. But who from the current squad will stay and who will leave as Preston look towards another playoff push next season.

(Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Goalkeepers

Declan Rudd (contracted until 2020). Has been #1 since January due to Maxwell’s loan exit and Ripley’s injury. He still has an error in him and will face tough competition to remain first-choice. Verdict stay.

Connor Ripley (contracted until 2022). Signed in January as competition for Rudd but an ankle injury halted his progress. Verdict stay.

Chris Maxwell (contracted until 2020). Loaned to Charlton in January after rumours of unsettling the dressing room. Chances now look extremely limited. Verdict leave.

Michael Crowe (contracted until 2020). A horror show on his debut, meant he was to go on loan to the League of Ireland in January but remained as cover after Ripley’s injury. Verdict stay, but loaned.

Matthew Hudson (contracted until 2020). Career has stalled after failing to make a league appearance while on loan at Bury this season. Verdict stay, but loaned.

Defenders

Darnell Fisher (contracted until 2021). Looked like he might have suffered from second-season syndrome but his performances have improved since. Verdict stay.

Joe Rafferty (contracted until 2022). Signed in January and has been bedded into the squad before regular playing time. Will provide good cover across the backline. Verdict stay.

Andrew Hughes (contracted until 2021). Brilliantly stepped into Greg Cunningham’s boots but a hamstring injury in March cut his season short. Verdict stay.

Josh Earl (contracted until 2021). Has failed to take his chance after Hughes’ injury. Originally a winger, the 20-year-old only began playing full-back at the beginning of last season, undoubtedly a good footballer, it may be worth playing him in his original position. Verdict stay.

Tom Clarke (contracted until 2020). Hasn’t made the squad since the 23rd February with his absence left unexplained. The 31-year-old is popular amongst the fans but his time may be up. Verdict leave.

Ben Davies (contracted until 2021). After a breakout season last campaign, Davies has gone from strength-to-strength and is now a real leader. Verdict stay.

Jordan Storey (contracted until 2022). Only broke into the Exeter side in February 2018 and there have been mistakes in his debut Championship campaign. But he’s formed an impressive partnership with Davies. Verdict stay.

Paul Huntington (contracted until 2021). Found opportunities difficult since Storey and Davies have established themselves. His experience and passion remains of value. Verdict stay.

(Anthony Devlin – PA Images / Contributor)

Midfielders

Ben Pearson (contracted until 2021). PNE look decidedly more open without him but he needs to improve his disciplinary record if he, or PNE, are to progress to the next level. Verdict stay.

Alan Browne (contracted until 2021). Keeps on improving and with 11 goals this season he is invaluable. Verdict stay.

Daniel Johnson (contracted until 2021). Has never looked like the goal machine he was in League One but offers enough to be a decent squad player. Verdict stay.

Paul Gallagher (contracted until 2020). The 34-year-old has found his position in the quarterback role where he relies on his excellent vision and passing. Verdict stay.

Ryan Ledson (contracted until 2021). Signed as Pearson’s understudy, also needs to improve his disciplinary record. Verdict stay.

Brad Potts (contracted until 2022). Not looked out of place since his January arrival. Can only improve. Verdict stay.

Josh Harrop (contracted until 2021). Season ended in September after suffering an ACL, his potential is yet to be fulfilled. Verdict stay.

Kevin Barnes – CameraSport via Getty Images

Forwards

Josh Ginnelly (contracted until 2021). Has only played 32 minutes of Championship football, leaving much to prove. Verdict stay.

Brandon Barker (loan expires at end of season). Shown potential to be a game changer at Championship level but has had a stop-start season due to injuries. Verdict only re-sign if injuries can be sorted.

Tom Barkhuizen (contracted until 2020). Never seems extraordinary but has played 84 times for PNE in the past two seasons and always does a job. Verdict stay.

Billy Bodin (contracted until 2020). Showed flashes last season before his injury in pre-season, and will have something to prove on his return. Verdict stay.

Callum Robinson (contracted until 2020). 13 goals in 24 apps and would’ve helped massively in North End’s promotion push if he stayed fit. However, with little movement on a new deal North End may cash in before he can leave for free. Verdict sell, unless he signs a new deal.

Lukas Nmecha (loan expires at end of season). Found his feet at right-wing, needs to add goals to his game to become a real asset. Verdict loan again, if Man City allow.

Sean Maguire (contracted until 2021). Without a proper pre-season he’s been lacklustre with a goal return of 3. Verdict stay.

Jayden Stockley (contracted until 2022). A proven goal-scorer at League 2 level, the 25-year-old has already scored important goals for PNE and will take time to adapt to the Championship. Verdict stay.

Louis Moult (contracted until 2021). Doesn’t dominate games at this level enough and is very similar to Stockley. Could find himself down the pecking order and look to leave. Verdict leave.

Barring the obvious ones who are currently out on loan (Pringle, Boyle, Vermijl), the core of the North End squad should remain the same for the 2019/20 season. Consistency has been key in recent seasons for PNE and this group only needs a few proven additions to have a real play-off chance. Whether billionaire Mr. Hemming’s cheque book can stretch to this remains to be seen.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 08: Preston North End’s Louis Moult celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Preston North End at City Ground on December 8, 2018 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Mick Walker – CameraSport via Getty Images)
Categories
Report

Preston North End 0-1 Sheffield United: Match Report

The Blades shred the playoff hopes of Preston North End on what was a desperately frustrating afternoon in Lancashire.

PNE huffed and puffed but to no avail, the game decided by just the one goal – the seventh time this has happened in the last 17 meetings between the two clubs.
The last time we faced off with our Yorkshire rivals at Deepdale was back in December 2017.

That time we were on the right side of a cagey 1-0 scoreline: Hugill breaking free at the back-post to stab home a floated Robinson cross. You’ll be forgiven for not remembering that one.

Ten players from those two squads also featured today, but this game had a completely different emphasis.

Sheffield United are enjoying a remarkable season, as they continue to jockey for a place in the automatic promotion spots. And I think it’s fair to say that this was largely unexpected.

Relatively, Preston have also had a remarkable season when considering their woeful false start. A start which saw them sitting rock bottom with just ten games played.

Without that early capitulation, we would be in the playoffs right now, no question about it. Oh, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Today the two sides fought each other for the 40th time since 1999 and therefore we are certainly no strangers to one another.

Back then, Moyes was at the helm and in between Moysie and Alex Neil, we’ve had thirteen other managers. A pint for anyone who can tell me which two managers have a 100% record. And before you ask, no, you can’t use Wikipedia.

The Blades have always been a staunch opponent of ours and this game was no different.

Aged tactician Chris Wilder has an admirer in youthful Scotsman Alex Neil, who lauded his managerial counterpart’s “unique” style earlier in the week.

The Blades are well-drilled and flaunt a nuanced 3-4-1-2 formation which gives the two wide centre halves license to overlap their wing backs and launch attacking sequences. Centre halves overlapping… Now that just doesn’t sit right with me, but it works.

It has been a fruitful system for the Blades, although it would be wrong to overlook the role of clinical finisher Billy Sharp, who has etched a tally of 23 goals to his name so far this season.

Take those goals away and things would be looking a bit more bleak for the Blades. And when I say a bit I mean a lot.

From my brief calculations I’m talking around 16 points, give or take, to be attributed solely to Sharp. Now that’s quite an ignorant stat on my behalf for a number of reasons, but you get the point.

Preston have not had the luxury of that sort of player. It was looking like Callum Robinson could be that guy, but a prolonged spell on the sidelines dashed those hopes.

In fact, Billy Sharp has netted almost double the amount of Moult, Maguire, Stockley and Nmecha combined.

Sharp was not on the scoresheet today, but his striking partner David McGoldrick was.

The Irish international forced the ball home just past the half hour mark, after stopper Declan Rudd had tipped an Egan header against the bar. Delirium in the Kop, the 5,000+ United fans basking in the April sun.

A few more popped off in the Finney executive area, but that one is something the club will have to resolve. Unruly scenes which could have been much uglier if they were in the Town End or Invincibles.

From that point on, Preston just couldn’t get going. They looked flat, leggy and lacked a creative spark.

The opening 20 minutes saw the Lilywhites come tantalisingly close to breaking the deadlock, but this was their best spell in what would be an end-to-end sparring match.

The dazzling feet of Lukas Nmecha caused United all sorts of problems in those early stages and he physically got the better of his man on a number of occasions.

Fullback Fisher marauded down the wing too, giving Nmecha that extra boost as Preston potently pressed their visitors.

The best chance in this spell of pressure came in the 17th minute, when the ball broke to the feet of CR7.

Robinson composed himself before striking the ball hard and low, only for Dean Henderson to palm it clear for a corner. A fully fit Robinson and it’s 1-0 Preston. Fine margins.

But that was all we really had to write home about.

Once McGoldrick found a way through, United managed the game impeccably.

They maintained a rigid structure and pressed high up the pitch, giving Preston little room for maneuver.
Wilder’s front two just didn’t stop running, forcing PNE into hasty decisions and misplaced punts.
But this was to be expected and explains why they are where they are.

The Blades run, run and run. They hassle and harry, push and pull. They are relentless and whenever Preston picked up the ball, you could be sure a man in red and white was alert to the danger.

It just seemed like we ran out of options in the end and you really don’t want to be chasing the game when playing a side with the nous and know-how of Sheffield United.

In their previous eight games, they had won six when scoring first.

Wilder knows how to control the narrative of 90 minutes, in part due to the experience his side ooze. Something we lack in comparison.

The average age of their starting XI was 27.6, compared to the youthful ranks of Preston who stood today at an average age of just 23. Brilliant for the future, but something which can hinder us in the present.

That was the difference today, as we looked naive, trying to force our way through a team with an incredible knowledge of the game.

A couple of things that really impressed me about United was their ball control and their energy.

Even in the last ten minutes, our defence were forced to go long and this was simply because they had no other option.

As they say, sometimes attacking is the best form of defence.

Two defeats on the bounce seems to have pretty much ended our playoff hopes.

A real shame, certainly not helped by the brief international interruption which sapped the momentum out of the team.
It’ll take an 08/09-style miracle now. Hey ho, you never know…

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Categories
Analysis

Preston North End: A look at the milestones, past and present

I would like to think that Preston have improved since October 5, 1878. A 1-0 defeat to Eagley Football Club marked the club’s first ever game of football, before they went professional in 1885.

Four years later, ‘The Invincibles’ won twenty matches and drew three, before lifting the Division One trophy. That season, they also broke the record for the biggest victory in an FA Cup match, which still stands. PNE recorded a mammoth 26-0 victory against Hyde in their incredible FA Cup run which saw them get their name on the trophy without conceding a goal; winning the first ever double.

As more teams joined the leagues, though, Preston’s position started to drop. In 1930, North End finished 16th in Division Two, their lowest league position up to that point. But good times were ahead. Just four years later, Preston were promoted to the top tier and they stayed there until World War Two, with the help of a certain Tom Finney.

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During this time, they also won the FA Cup in 1938, beating Huddersfield by one goal to nil at Wembley. Even though it was the first televised FA Cup final, there was still an attendance of over 93,000. With the league suspended, Preston also won the Football League War Cup Final in 1941, beating Arsenal 2-1 in a replay at Ewood Park after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.

The Lilywhites finished second in Division One in 1958, their highest ever final league position from this date onward. But at the end of that season, Tom Finney retired, and the following campaign, PNE were relegated once more to the second tier.

From here, it was a downward slope through the English football pyramid, with the anomaly of the seasons between 1977-1981, when they played Division Two football again.

The lowest point in the club’s history came in the 1985-86 season when they finished 23rd in Division Four. But, there was a silver lining as PNE were re-elected to the Football League for the following season, avoiding relegation from Division Four to non-league. Preston took this as their warning and that season, finished second and earned promotion to the third division.

Fast-forward to more recent times and after spending fifteen years in the Championship, Preston were relegated in 2011 to League One. But, despite a few years of hardship, Preston were to enjoy more glory.

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After failing to go up through the play-offs the previous season, North End finished third in the 2014-15 season and after two stunning games against Chesterfield, they faced Swindon Town in the play-off final at Wembley. A hattrick from Jermaine Beckford helped Preston to a 4-0 win, making him only the third player to score three in a play-off final at Wembley after Clive Mendonca and, current team member, Scott Sinclair. It was a momentous day and one which will be cherished for years to come.

After five years of playing Championship football, finishing within five places of the play-offs on three occasions, Preston are currently in sixth place, with the hope of play-off promotion a very real prospect with just nine games of the season to go.

With the football world in the grip of uncertainty, the fate of many teams remains unknown. At best, we can hope for a swift conclusion of the covid-19 crisis and the current season to be resumed. At worst, the Premier League and EFL will declare the 2019-20 season null and void, with Preston having to postpone their dreams of a play-off campaign till next season, whenever that may be.

Whatever the case, Preston are desperate to reach the top flight for the first time since 1958. Let’s just hope if we do get there, we don’t come up against Eagley.

QUICK NOTE: This is a painful time for us all and it is vital that we all do our bit to combat covid-19. Football pales into insignificance during times when countless lives are being lost, but we would like to let you know that we are here if you need someone to talk to. Or, if you’d like to write for us and clear the isolation blues with some PNE content, get in touch. We’d be happy to have you on board. Stay safe.

Categories
Analysis

Player Analysis – How has the squad fared so far?

With twelve games to go, we thought we’d take a deep statistical dive into the player performances so far this season. It’s been an exhilarating campaign to date and there is no doubt that there will be plenty of twists and turns to come as we approach the final furlong.

Declan Rudd – 7

The former Norwich man has played every one of the 3,060 minutes of Championship action so far this season and has conceded 38 goals in the process.

A stopper for the big occasion, only five goals have got past him in the six games against the current top five. His distribution has been consistently average, with just over 60% of his long kicks finding team mates. Rudd’s performances have shown Alex Neil that a new first team goalkeeper isn’t a priority in the transfer window.

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Darnell Fisher – 7

North End’s most ill-disciplined player, with 11 bookings. The Starman has started 21 games this season and appeared in 14 of Preston’s 16 wins. He’s the defender with the highest number of assists (4), but his two games played against current top five opposition both ended with his name in the book and he has conceded 36 fouls already this season. If Fisher can improve his disciplinary record, he’d be the complete fullback.

Ben Davies – 8

The level-headed centre half has racked up one assist and no bookings in the 2,411 minutes he’s played this season. His 124 clearances and 21 interceptions have shown that Davies is Premier League quality (he’s achieved a higher tackles won percentage than Virgil Van Dijk this season). The left-footed 24-year-old has conceded just six fouls this campaign, the lowest foul-to-game ratio of the whole squad and has cemented himself as the first name on the teamsheet.

Patrick Bauer – 7

A seamless transition back to the Championship, Bauer has racked up 30 starts for the Lilywhites so far this season. Both of his two goals have been headers, including the winning goal against his former employers Charlton back in January. The German has won 66% of his 398 duels and blocked 15 shots.

His partnership has grown stronger with Ben Davies as the season has progressed – six of North End’s seven clean sheets have been when Bauer and Davies have started together. These two have conceded 23 goals in 24 games together; with any different partnership, 14 goals were conceded in 9 games.

Andrew Hughes – 6.5

The Welsh left back has had competition for his favoured position this season with Joe Rafferty but has given Alex Neil enough confidence to start him in North End’s last three games. No goals or assists for Hughes in 15 appearances but a tackle success rate of 72% shows he is applying a more defensive role to his game. Hughes has only been booked once this season but is yet to convince many fans that he is worthy of a start ahead of Rafferty.

Joe Rafferty – 6.5

The former Rochdale full back has made 22 appearances for North End this season. He is also the only North End player this season to be shown the red card, when he was sent off against Fulham in December. He’s played 425 minutes more than Hughes but hasn’t completed as many key passes or interceptions.

Tom Clarke – 5

Clarke’s seventh season at the club gives him just ten appearances so far. Two yellow cards and eleven successful tackles are the key features of the 601 minutes he’s played. He’s also won 44 of his 80 duels and 69% of his tackles.

Ben Pearson – 8

The defensive midfielder has been named in the starting eleven 31 times – the highest amount in the outfield squad. His disciplinary record has improved since last season. He’s been shown the yellow card nine times so far. He’s also the player with the highest number of successful tackles and interceptions, 40 each. With 23 key passes and one goal to his name, he’s made an impact to North End’s attacking play as well as contributing massively to the defence and midfield.

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Paul Gallagher – 7

The former Leicester City attacker has started just 17 games this campaign, appearing in a further eight from the bench. With the most touches per 90 minutes in the squad (82) and 34 key passes, including two assists, Gallagher remains a pivotal producer. The long serving midfielder has scored six as well, which puts him third in the rankings at the club.

Alan Browne – 6.5

The versatile midfielder hasn’t quite been as lethal in the final third as last season, but Browne has been dependable in an array of positions. All four of his goals have come from inside the box, but the promise carried through from his eleven goals last season hasn’t been met with him scoring, on average, just once every 600 minutes.

Daniel Johnson – 8

After an electrifying start to the season, the Jamaican midfielder’s form has suffered with injury, but he remains the leading goalscorer at the club, with ten, and has made six assists. Eight goals and five assists came in the first 14 games of the season but he’s maintained an 81% pass accuracy throughout his 1,944 minutes.

Brad Potts – 5

No goals or assists and a cross accuracy of just 9% from his eleven crosses. The former Barnsley wide midfielder still needs time to adapt to the North End setup. Potts has flirted in and out of contention this season, but his 21 appearances prove that Alex Neil still rates the 25-year-old.

Josh Harrop – 7

After missing the first three games due to an ACL injury from last season, the former Manchester United attacker has scored five goals and assisted one in 24 appearances. He’s also completed 14 successful dribbles and has shown Alex Neil and the fans the quality of a player with experience at a top tier English club.

Tom Barkhuizen – 8

Nine goals and four assists underline what a key player he is to North End’s squad. The pacey winger has also made 20 successful tackles and 15 interceptions although he is the player with the lowest number of touches per 90 minutes; just 38. His shooting ability and quick feet are important attributes.

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Billy Bodin – 5.5

Two goals in the opening six games of the season raised expectations above the quality of his subsequent performances. After starting seven successive games just before Christmas, Bodin hasn’t been included in the starting eleven since the end of December due to poor form and an injury.

Jayden Stockley – 6

Although he was the man with the most headed goals in Europe last year, Stockley has only achieved an aerial success rate of 41% this season. Four yellow cards and just 38 touches per 90 minutes, Stockley is yet to fully prove himself in the Championship.

Seani Maguire – 6.5

The Irish forward is the Preston player with the highest number of appearances this season. Despite playing 2,439 minutes of Championship football, Maguire has managed just four goals and two assists – his last goal came in North End’s 2-1 win at home to Fulham in early December. He’s won 67 fouls in his 31 appearances and has completed 23 successful dribbles.

David Nugent – 6.5

The 34-year-old striker has only found the back of the net once in the 789 minutes he’s played for PNE this season. A veteran who has provided experience and nous, particularly from the bench. Nugent is a workhorse with plenty to offer, even if his goal return has been poor.

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Categories
Opinion

Preston North End 2-1 Hull City: Player Ratings

After what was a dismal first half offering, PNE turned on the heat in the second half, overturning a one goal deficit to win 2-1.

Hull were deserving of their initial advantage, but an inspired double substitution just before the hour mark gave Preston a new lease of life.

Stockley and Browne led the revolution, as the Lilywhites breached Hull’s last line of defence twice, scoring two goals in four minutes.

Hull City boss Grant McCann made the fatal decision of adopting a policy of containment in the second half, which was unwise against the best home team in the Championship.

McCann’s opposite number, Alex Neil, was left full of praise for his players post-match, saying, “these boys will run through brick walls for this club.”

Now, onto the Player Ratings:

Declan Rudd – 7.0

Despite the unjust stick given to Rudd from the Town End, the shot-stopper put in another consistent performance.

Rudd did nothing wrong today and it would be deeply unfair to give him any criticism for Hull’s opener – a free header from inside the six yard box.

A solid 7 for Preston’s no.1.

Darnell Fisher – 8.2

Or should we say, Darnell Alves.

Coming back into the side in place of Tom Clarke, Darnell made a big difference.

The tricky right back gave Preston width and maintained good positioning throughout the match.

The feisty fullback had the most tackles in the match (4), winning three of those. He also made 24 accurate passes and created one chance.

And if you’re that way inclined, he also got an assist, winning the penalty which Gallagher dutifully converted.

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Patrick Bauer – 7.5

The towering German won the most duels (11) in the match and was an important cog in Preston’s defensive resolve in the final 10 minutes.

But Bauer will be disappointed that he could not get closer to Mallik Wilks, when the Hull winger buried a free header with ease just before half-time.

A titanic performance nonetheless.

Ben Davies – 7.0

The coveted defender came close to Bauer, winning 9 duels across the 90 minutes and he made a number of significant clearances.

Davies was back to his usual self, after a slightly shaky performance last week.

Andrew Hughes – 6.5

Hughes has been blighted by injuries this campaign and it’s often been noted that it takes him a while to fully recover.

He is still off the pace, but was impressive in the air once again, winning 7 aerial duels.

Had a tough afternoon against Wilks, which limited his ability to maraud up-field.

Ben Pearson – 8.0

An average first half turned into a brilliant second half.

Pearson mopped up well in the first 45, making a crucial tackle to prevent Tom Eaves from getting through on goal early on.

Gave PNE energy in the second half, even managing to get a rare shot off at goal.

Won the official Preston North End MOTM.

Paul Gallagher – 7.8

Judging by our Twitter replies, people thought our inclusion of Paul Gallagher in our MOTM poll was slightly misguided.

Making his first start since 11 January, Gallagher was the only player in blue and white looking to progress Preston into the final third in the first half.

In the second half, the veteran midfielder waned, but was on-hand to smash the equaliser into the net from the penalty spot.

An absolutely ruthless finish from 12 yards, which couldn’t have been stopped even if there were five keepers in the Hull net.

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Josh Harrop – 6.0

Struggled to influence proceedings in the first half, but his energy levels increased in the final half an hour.

Managed himself well towards the end and saw a deft strike from a freekick tipped over the bar.

Certainly not a stinker, but the former Manchester United youngster will have far better games this season.

Tom Barkhuizen – 6.5

Like Harrop, did very little in the first half, but was much improved after the interval.

Barkhuizen had the least touches (31) of any outfield player to play 90 minutes and lacked accuracy in his passes.

Spurned the biggest chance of the first half for Preston, when he saw his close range header palmed away, before he blasted the rebound over the bar.

But it would be unfair to throw too much criticism at the winger, who has started every league game in 2020 and is enjoying his best season to date in a Preston shirt.

Scott Sinclair – 5.0

After his wonderful solo effort againt Swansea, Scott Sinclair has struggled to make a sustained impact across his 7 starts.

The potential is definitely there, but the Celtic hero is lacking in match fitness after a prolonged spell on the sidelines.

Alex Neil was right to withdraw the winger early on in the second half and while it will be frustrating for Sinclair, it is important that his head doesn’t drop.

Seani Maguire – 6.0

It just doesn’t seem to be clicking for the diminutive Irishman at the moment.

Came tantalisingly close in both halves, seeing a header drop just wide in the first, before his second half scuff was cleared off the line.

Maguire was the wrong option up front today, which Alex Neil realised when he brought compatriot Alan Browne on in his place.

Substitutes

Alan Browne – 8.4*

The Irishman helped turn the game on its head when he was introduced with half an hour left to play.

Browne brought bucket loads of energy onto the pitch and was unlucky when he had his appeals for a spot kick waved away.

Linked up superbly with Jayden Stockley to head home the winner and gets the prestonupdates.com MOTM award (Which flavour of Walkers do you like, Alan?).

Totally transformative.

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Jayden Stockley – 8.0

I could copy and paste a similar description to the one above, because Jayden Stockley was equally as transformative as Alan Browne.

The top notch target man battled relentlessly, winning headers, ruffling feathers and occupying the Hull backline.

And as he said himself post-match, he can do both the pretty and ugly side of the game.

The pretty side of Stockley was shown in the 71st minute, when he combined with fellow substitute Browne for the winner.

Stockley should start on Tuesday.

Brad Potts – N/A

Potts wasn’t afforded enough time to make an impact and so avoids a rating this week.

Make sure you’re following us on both Instagram and Twitter for all the latest unofficial Preston North End updates.

Categories
Opinion

Preston North End 0-1 Millwall: Player Ratings

Declan Rudd – 6.5

A few decent saves which kept us in the running for points. Distribution was good but he couldn’t produce another crucial save when Hutchinson nodded it past him in the 78th minute.

Tom Clarke – 4

Clumsy, slow and caught off his marker too often, leading to chances.
Made ground brilliantly and prevented a second for Millwall with a sliding challenge.

Patrick Bauer – 5

Strong and powerful but too slow when playing forward. Preston’s 71% pass accuracy was certainly helped with Bauer’s passes to Davies. Adapted well to playing up front near the end.

Ben Davies – 4

Slipped and gifted the ball for Millwall’s best chance. The smart defender wasn’t up to his normal standard and was easily opened up by Millwall attacks.

Andrew Hughes – 4

Good deliveries into the box but most of North End’s 366 accurate passes
came along the backline from Hughes playing inside, when quick attacking passes were necessary to move the team up field.

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Ben Pearson – 5

Aggressive and strong but his personal efforts weren’t enough in the centre of midfield to help the team grab a late goal. Also booked for a silly sliding tackle which takes him to only one yellow card off suspension.

Alan Browne – 3.5

Poor distribution and low work rate alongside Pearson. Slow to react to counter attacks from both sides and was brought off in the 65th minute. Only 2 assists and 22 key passes this season shows he is out of form.

Scott Sinclair – 3.5

An indifferent performance today and he struggled to make an impact on Preston attacks after the first five minutes, when he looked lively and creative.

Tom Barkhuizen – 4.5

The in-form forward looked lonely on the wing today due to
Preston’s lack of width in attacks. Made key runs in-behind the Lions defence but couldn’t find his tenth goal of the season in the league.

Daniel Johnson – 4

Didn’t hold onto the ball well enough and missed one of Preston’s three shots on target early in the game when he picked out the goalkeeper from close range.

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David Nugent – 4

Lively but lost energy as the game developed. Hit his only strike
of the afternoon well over the crossbar from a tight angle with the near post open.

Substitutes:

Sean Maguire – 4

Maguire has only managed four goals so far this season so it was no surprise when he made no impact to the scoreline after replacing David Nugent. Clever in some of the build-up play but didn’t unleash a shot.

Josh Harrop – 4

Quick feet and smart with the ball on the deck. After two stunning goals
in recent games, he wasn’t able to get a shot away in the 25 minutes he was on the pitch.

Paul Gallagher – 4

His distribution wasn’t as accurate as usual but the veteran midfielder
still contributed to the few North End attacks that took place in the last 25
minutes. North End’s only corner was a poor delivery to the near post by Gallagher late in the game, but he was unfortunate with a freekick which was parried away by Bialkowski.

Categories
Analysis

Stoke City 0-2 Preston North End: The Alternative View

Before January 21, Preston North End had won just two games away from home this season.

This completely juxtaposed their magnificent, table-topping home form and created somewhat of a paradox.

How could they be so formidable at home, yet so vulnerable away from the comforts of Deepdale?

Fast forward to last night and Preston now have the tenth best away form in the Championship after winning three away games in four matches.

Stoke City were the latest team to crumble under the remorseless scythe of Preston. Alex Neil’s men withstanding relentless pressure before scoring two scrappy goals which moved them to within three points of Leeds United in second.

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It was by no means a vintage Preston victory, but it came with the same satisfaction. The Lilywhites battled hard and left nothing to chance.

Stoke could have been out of sight in the first half, but Rudd and the rearguard remained resolute, slamming the door shut and nulifying the profligate Potters.

Preston are sprinting to the finish line and beginning to put distance between themselves and the chasing pack, but there are still a number of hurdles dotting the rest of the track.

This week, rather than offering our opinions, we thought we’d analyse the match through the alternative lens – at club, fan and national media level.

Michael O’Neill’s verdict.

It’s safe to say Stoke boss Michael O’Neill felt hard done by.

In his first eight home games as Stoke manager, O’Neill picked up 17 points from a possible 24. And the Potters had recorded 8 wins in 16 under the Northern Irishman, compared to 8 wins in 46 before his arrival.

O’Neill has enjoyed a wonderful start to life in Staffordshire, but fell flat last night despite his side dominating large swathes of the game.

Speaking to the media, O’Neill said, “In terms of shots and everything else we were the more dominant team. We just didn’t manage to get ahead and we were punished as a result of that.”

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Arguably, Stoke were unlucky not to go into halftime with the advantage, but despite dominating various attacking metrics, they were wasteful with their final ball.

O’Neill’s men created 10 chances, but only one of these was a ‘big chance,’ according to statistics app FotMob. Preston, on the other hand, created just 4 chances, but 2 of these were classified as ‘big chances.’

The age old phrase quality over quantity comes to mind.

A downtrodden, downbeat O’Neill did offer some semblance of praise for Preston though, admitting that “They’re a good team and I know Alex has done a good job there.”

What did the local and national media have to say?

National media outlets have been skirting around Preston at arms length for much of the season, but it’s only a matter of time before they are forced to shed some light on Alex Neil’s promotion contenders.

FourFourTwo, in their match report, spoke about the dominance of Stoke for large periods of the game and portrayed the game as a smash and grab by PNE. They also described Preston’s defence as “well-drilled” and this was a theme from the night, as both Declan Rudd and Andrew Hughes made the WhoScored TOTW.

BBC Sport described how Preston “snatched” the lead in the 57th minute, after failing to find their rhythm in the first half.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, Michael Appleton said, “He [Alex Neil] has done an incredible job with the budget he has down at Preston.” Appleton went on to laud PNE’s recruitment strategy, telling listeners that “it would be an incredible story” should Preston go on to achieve promotion.

Football League World heaped plenty of praise on Ben Davies, for his efforts in achieving PNE’s seventh clean sheet of the season.

Turning to the local media outlets, Martin Spinks of StokeOnTrentLive, who described Preston as “something of a bogey side,” argued that while Stoke were better for much of the game, Preston took their chances, “to show why they are sixth and Stoke fourth bottom.”

Writing for LancsLive, George Hodgson gave his Preston North End player ratings and it’s got to be said, they were bang on.

The only questionable one was the 9 given to Ben Davies, which could so easily have been a 10.

And finally, the Stoke City fans.

We definitely rattled a few cages last night…

Speaking of rattling cages, James McClean had his say on Ben Pearson.

Would you like some salt with those chips, George?

They weren’t all like George.

And we’ll finish off the piece with another nice comment. Cheers, Matt.

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Report

Positional Problems Continue for Josh Earl at Ipswich Town

After making his first substitute appearance for Ipswich Town on Saturday against Sunderland, boss Paul Lambert handed Josh Earl his first start against League One strugglers Wimbledon yesterday.

It was another disappointing night for the Tractor Boys, who have slipped out of the play-offs, despite their lightening fast start to the season.

Following his fruitful loan spell at basement boys Bolton Wanderers, where Earl made ten appearances, Preston North End hoped that a loan switch to Ipswich would give Earl an opportunity to taste life in the upper echelons of League One.

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So far, after just over 90 minutes of football with Ipswich, Earl has failed to impress, although outside factors have undoubtedly contributed to the muted criticism directed at Earl after his first start.

Three defeats in five have seen Ipswich plummet into dismay and this is coupled with the fact that Paul Lambert has the lowest win ratio (27.8%) of any Ipswich manager (20+ games) since Jackie Milburn in 1963-64.

Toxicity is running deep at Portman Road, meaning Josh Earl has extra pressure resting on his shoulders at a club with high expectations.

At Bolton, Earl made significant progress when played as the left-sided centre half. Preston fans have long been clamouring for Earl to play centrally, after witnessing his discomfort out wide on a number of occasions.

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However, Paul Lambert started Earl as the left wing back and this frustrated many Ipswich fans.

On the Ipswich Town Forum (twtd.co.uk), fans raised the issue of Earl at wing back, criticising his lack of technical ability. One fan even labelled Earl “dreadful.”

Another Town fan offered slightly more constructive criticism, arguing that Earl should be played at CB, because he “clearly has no idea how to push on with the ball.”

Earl looked uncomfortable out wide, with “no room to play, no real options.” His delivery and belief were also the subject of criticism, which suggests Earl just simply should not be played in a wing back role.

It’s another interesting development for Earl and while the experience will help refine his game, it is crucial that Earl is given a run of games in a central defensive role.

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Opinion

15 Games Remaining: Preston Have an Incredible Opportunity

The Championship season is approaching a grandstand finale and Preston North End are gathering momentum at a crucial time.

The Lilywhites still have to play four of the teams above them and to use a footballing cliché, that means a series of “six-pointers.”

It has been a streaky season so far and despite enduring a torrid festive spell, Preston broke the ice in late January with a home win against strugglers Charlton.

During the 10 games between November 23 and January 1, PNE amassed a meagre 8 points out of a possible 30, which is relegation form.

Fast forward to Saturday and Preston are sitting pretty in the play-offs after beating Wigan, moving them to within 5 points of second spot.

Why, after losing a spate of games, are Preston still in automatic promotion contention? Well, every single team in the top six has been about as consistent as a bus on a Sunday.

At the summit, West Brom have won just two in ten, while Leeds in second are currently enjoying their annual new year crumble. Marcelo Bielsa’s capitulation specialists have won just two games since December 14, averaging 0.9 points per game.

In third, the fairly formidable Fulham with their frightening forward line are also quite streaky. Parker’s men are rarely convincing, failing to win a game by more than one goal since the beginning of January.

Fulham have never quite reached their ‘ful’ potential and draws with Luton and Charlton and a defeat at home to Reading prove this.

In fourth, two time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest don’t play the most attractive football, but despite lacking creativity, Forest convert, on average, 40% of their shots on target. Comparatively, Leeds convert 29% of their shots on target.

Six wins in ten have seen the two time European Cup winners surge into automatic promotion contention, but the side who create just 1.06 big chances per match rely heavily on Lewis Grabban, who has scored over a third of their goals this season. Did I mention the European Cup part?

Sitting just above Preston in fifth are Brentford. Only Leeds United average more shots on target than the energetic, possession-hungry Bees, but despite the hype, Brentford are prone to a blip.

Brentford have lost ten games this season, seven of those by a 1-0 scoreline. In fact, only Preston have beaten the Bees by more than one goal.

Thomas Frank’s men play some of the most scintillating football in England, but have only beaten one team (Fulham) out of those in the top six.

Competition at the top is rife and with consistency at a premium, Preston North End have a stunning opportunity, even if they are suffering shortages up front and in defence.

When we appeared on the From the Finney podcast at the beginning of January, we spoke about the importance of stability at the back and signing a creative, McGeady-esque influence.

Scott Sinclair joined to an awesome hurrah, giving both the players and fans a much needed boost.

The winner of the treble treble at Celtic, Sinclair left Glasgow a hero, joining Preston with plenty left to give.

In defence, injuries and suspensions hurt PNE badly over Christmas. Joe Rafferty was suspended against Fulham, while injuries at the back gave Huntington and Storey their first starts in months. Even Alan Browne has found himself deputising at fullback, despite playing much of last season in the number ten role.

Alex Neil has a core of 12-13 players that he wholly trusts, meaning if (and it’s a big IF) the squad can remain fit for the remaining games, Preston will be or at least should be in the top six.

Away games at Stoke and West Brom sandwich two comfortable home games and it is vital that the Lilywhites achieve at least 7 points from this batch of fixtures.

It’s important to remain pragmatic though, especially considering the unpredictability of the Championship.

As the saying goes, let’s take it one game at a time.

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Opinion

Top 5 Famous Preston North End Fans

Much has been made over the years of celebrity football fans. These famous faces act as unofficial (and at times official) ambassadors for clubs, increasing teams’ domestic and sometimes international pull. Whether it be Manchester City’s Gallagher brothers or Norwich City’s Stephen Fry, clubs can be keen to associate themselves with more “vogue” stars, to increase their own appeal. This article will look at North End’s top five most famous fans (in no particular order – just in case an angry famous Nobber feels hard done by).

Steve Borthwick

Famous for?

Former England rugby union captain; current England forwards coach.

Profile

Cumbrian-born Borthwick was England captain between 2008-2010 and won 57 caps for his country. Narrowly missing out on the final 2003 World Cup Squad (he was in the preliminary squad), Borthwick bounced back from this disappointment to have a nine-year, distinguished international career.

His association with Preston started when he attended Hutton Grammar School and played for local union side, Preston Grasshoppers.

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Stu Bennet (AKA Wade Barrett)

Famous for?

WWE Wrestler.

Profile

This ardent Nobber is one of Preston’s most vocal fans. Typing his name and “Preston” into YouTube will ultimately yield some humorous short clips, as he takes the good word of North End to American shores.

A Penwortham-born lad, who despite moving all over the UK and ultimately abroad, he has stayed loyal to the cause.

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Mark Lawrenson

Famous for?

Former professional football player; Match of the Day (and other BBC football shows) pundit

Profile

Born in the local area, Lawrenson was a player who got to live his boyhood dream and don the famous Lilywhite shirt, playing 73 times for North End. Initially playing under the management of Bobby Charlton, Lawrenson departed North End, eventually making a name for himself at a wee club down the road, Liverpool FC. Lawrenson also qualified to play for the Republic of Ireland and represented them on 39 occasions.

More well-known to younger audiences as the (now ‘tachless) bloke on Match of the Day and Football Focus, Lawrenson is usually good for a tangential reference and comment on North End. Despite having a long and high-profile media career, he has remained ever-present around the club, at official events.

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Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff

Famous for?

Former England Cricket captain; media career (including “League of Their Own” and “Top Gear”)

Profile

Freddie Flintoff (nicknamed after the Flintstone’s main character) is truly a bloke born and raised in Preston. A lifelong Lancashire County Cricket Club player, Fred represented his country for 11 years across three formats, in a period of transition which saw cricket adopt more professional standards. Fred sometimes fell short of these standards, initially with weight issues as a young player and latterly having the vice-captaincy removed from him, after a drunken pedalo incident in the Caribbean. Proof you can take the man out of Preston, but not Preston out of the man.

This should not detract from the outstanding talent he was and illustrious career he had. The 2005 Ashes winner was also awarded the ICC Player of the Year in the same year, sharing the award with one the greatest ever players in the sport, Jacques Kallis.

Subsequent to his professional sports career, Flintoff’s Northern charm has earned him and equally successful career after his retirement in cricket. Flintoff has done his best to help North End out on the transfer front. In 2019’s January transfer window, Flintoff was seen trying to tempt former England goalkeeper Joe Hart to Deepdale on Twitter. One issue: Flintoff is also reported to be a Man Citteh fan. Come on Fred, sort it out!

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Kevin Kilbane

Famous for?

Former professional football player; Match of the Day (and other BBC football shows) pundit

Profile

Almost a “copy and paste” of Mark Lawrenson’s profile. A Preston local, who played for his boyhood club in the early part of his career and earned Preston a red-letter day when he moved on. Kilbane, also like Lawrenson, qualified to play for the Republic of Ireland, making an outstanding 110 appearances for the men across the Irish Sea.

Again, like Lawrenson, Kilbane has cemented himself as an ever-present fixture on BBC football punditry panels. Mentioning North End less than Lawrenson and being less prominent around the club than the man he eerily shares many similarities with, his loyalty remains unquestionable.

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Notable Mentions

Ian McCulloch

Famous for?

Former snooker player.

Misses out because?

Not well-known enough outside of the snookering world. Although did make a final at the Grand Prix in Preston’s Guildhall, losing to “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Scott Fitzgerald

Famous for?

Boxing.

Misses out because?

Well-known around Preston, Fitzgerald is still making his name in the boxing world. Had this been written a year later, no doubt the “Mad Man” will have featured in the “top five”, given his undoubted potential. Sorry Scott – honest!

Ryan Brierley

Famous for?

Rugby League player.

Misses out because?

The Hull KR Super League player is a huge North End fan but is ultimately not too well-known outside of the sport. Hopefully 2020 will be an outstanding season for the Nobber.

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Report

Wrexham eyeing up a loan move for Josh Ginnelly

According to reports at Wrexham, out-of-favour winger Josh Ginnelly is a target of manager Dean Keates.

Keates, who signed Ginnelly when he was Walsall boss, knows the player well and holds him in high esteem.

22-year-old Ginnelly made his career breakthrough last season with Walsall under Keates, making 18 starts in League One, while scoring twice in that spell.

Prior to his permanent switch to Walsall, the Burnley youth product enjoyed a number of loan spells, including a half-season with National League side Altrincham, where he scored against Wrexham in a 1-1 draw in 2016.

With Preston manager Alex Neil hoping that new signing Scott Sinclair can assume Callum Robinson’s mantle on the left wing, Josh Ginnelly has slipped further down the pecking order.

A loan move is a must, but it remains to be seen as to whether he’d drop as low as National League strugglers Wrexham.

Wrexham are one of the biggest sides outside of the EFL in terms of infrastructure and history, but Ginnelly has proven his worth as high as League One level.

Sources at Wrexham claim that Keates has been monitoring Ginnelly’s situation for over a year and perhaps former Wrexham hero Louis Moult would help facilitate a move in Wrexham’s favour.

It seems unlikely, despite the connections, but wherever Ginnelly ends up, it’s vital that he gets a run of games lower down in the football pyramid.

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Report

Celtic fans bid farewell to hero Scott Sinclair

With numerous credible reports suggesting that Scott Sinclair is heading back to England today to discuss a move to Deepdale, Celtic fans have been bidding farewell to their hero.

Sinclair has been a massive part of Celtic’s dominance in recent seasons and according to many fans he has been unfairly treated as of late.

The 30-year-old was the only player to score in all competitions of the ‘treble treble’, when Celtic completed a third successive clean sweep of the domestic honours last season.

Signed by Brendan Rodgers for £3.5million in 2016, Sinclair is one of Celtic’s highest earners and with just six months remaining on his current deal, a move away from Celtic Park makes sense.

The links between Sinclair and Preston certainly aren’t fresh, with the Lancashire Post writing in July that Celtic had “knocked back” PNE’s loan enquiry for Sinclair. The Bhoys outlined a £2.5million asking price for their once prized possession.

This season, Neil Lennon has frozen Sinclair out of the side, claiming that competition for Sinclair’s place is rife. The winger clearly isn’t happy with the situation, but would have to be prepared to take a sizeable wage cut if he does move to PR1.

Questions still remain as to the ins and outs of a deal, but it would be an incredible coup for Preston who currently sit just four points off third place in the Championship.

Sinclair would finally fill the Callum Robinson void and could hopefully resolve Preston’s profligacy.

In his three year spell with the Bhoys, the experienced attacker has bagged 62 goals in 167 appearances and many Celtic fans have taken to Twitter to praise Sinclair for his goal-scoring exploits:


Clearly a much loved figure at Celtic, Sinclair would be a brilliant addition for promotion hopefuls Preston.