For Alex Neil the Carabao Cup represented a chance to rotate his side and take a look at his fringe players. North End faced League Two opposition in the shape of Bradford City and eased into the second round with a 4-0 victory.
With Neil making 11 changes to his starting side, we take a look at the talking points from North End’s impressive win.
Alan Browne is a competent right back
We’re in the second week of the season and Preston North End have an injury crisis because obviously they do.
Alan Browne started at right back against Bradford as Joe Rafferty, a right back by trade, started on the left as Neil rested his only fit left back Andrew Hughes.
Darnell Fisher was rested and with Huntington not in the squad, out with a groin injury, the only other right back option Tom Clarke partnered Jordan Storey in the middle of the defence.
The role that wasn’t totally unfamiliar for Browne as he played there, albeit briefly, in another North End injury crisis last November.
Over the last two seasons it’s been the midfielder’s attacking quality that has won him praise, scoring 21 goals since the beginning of the 2017/18 season.
On Tuesday, it was the Irishman’s defensive attributes that shone through. He crunched in to tackles in front of the North End faithful who cheered them as much as the four goals.
While remembering that this performance came against League Two opposition, Browne performed well. Hopefully, he won’t be needed at right back but if he is the 24-year-old would provide competent cover.
Ryan Ledson wants to impress
In front of a measly crowd of 3,456 the intensity of Tuesday’s game gave it the feeling of a pre-season game.
Ryan Ledson was the exception to this. Having missed the opening of the season, serving a suspension picked up against Wigan at the end of the last campaign, Ledson had something to prove.
Playing in a similar role to Ben Pearson, Ledson did the defensive side of the game extremely efficiently meaning Clarke and Storey had little to do.
The one thing Ledson has over Pearson is his range of passing. It was shown in glimpses over his debut season at Deepdale but was fully on show on Tuesday.
Most noticeably for North End’s second goal when the 21-year-old played a pass from the half-way line into the box cutting Bradford’s midfield and defence out of the game. It found Tom Bharkuizen who fired home for his first of the night.
Pearson will still be Neil’s first choice in defensive midfield but Ledson should provide excellent back up if he can put on a performance like he did on Tuesday.
Tom Bayliss needs time
Securing the services of Tom Bayliss from Coventry City in the Summer transfer window was regarded as a coup amongst North End fans with the 20-year-old regarded as one of the best youngsters in the football league.
The midfielder was not in the matchday squad against Wigan and Tuesday’s game was the first chance for Preston fans to see their new no.7.
Bayliss started in midfield alongside Ledson in a slightly more advanced role. However, as mentioned above, it was his midfield partner who gave Neil more of a selection headache.
This is not to say Bayliss played badly but he’s got a way to go before he can justify a starting berth. It may be simplistic, but he looks like he needs to bulk up and it will take time for him to adjust to being in a Championship side.
A lot of Neil’s recent signings look like they are in the process of being blooded, the likes of Josh Ginnelly and Jordan Storey. Bayliss, for now, looks like another one of those.
Josh Harrop is back
Josh Harrop’s last competitive appearance in a North End shirt came at the end of last September which ended in an ACL injury which required surgery and a lengthy recovery period.
He didn’t start against Bradford but came on in the 70th minute making an immediate impact scoring North End’s fourth and final goal in the 71st minute.
The midfielder’s shot from outside the box struck a deflection and looped over the Bradford goalkeeper. In truth, Harrop got lucky with his goal but after the year he’s had he deserved his luck.
Speaking to the LEP after the game Neil hopes his goal will give the 23-year-old a boost “He is working really hard, wants to be involved and the best way to get involved is to go and make an impact on the game…It was good for him, he needed a confidence booster and a wee pick-me-up.”
After his goal, Harrop along with the other forwards showed good passing and quick movement.
He wasn’t involved in the first two matchday squads and the next step in his recovery will be challenging for a spot on the bench.
Connor Ripley remains untested
Declan Rudd looks like he’s Neil’s no.1 after starting both league games. After an injury blighted start to his North End career Connor Ripley will be hoping he can challenge Rudd.
He started the last two games of the 2018/19 season, conceding six goals in total against Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford, not covering himself in glory.
In Tuesday’s 4-0 victory Ripley had little to do with North End enjoying 64% possession and limiting Bradford to two shots on target.
City’s best chance came after the restart as Connor Wood hit a great curling shot against Ripley’s crossbar with the former Middlesbrough man well beaten.
Apart from that the 26-year-old spent the rest of the game watching his teammates impress Neil without getting his own chance.
With Rudd impressing against Wigan it looks likely he’ll continue in the side.
Ripley will likely next play in the second round of the League Cup where North End face Hull City at Deepdale in the last week of August.