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. Embed from Getty Images
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. Embed from Getty Images
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. Embed from Getty Images
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. Embed from Getty Images