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.
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.
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.
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.