With the final whistle on Saturday marking the start of the international break, this brief prorogation seems like the perfect time to have a quick assessment of Preston’s start to the 2019/20 Championship campaign.
With that in mind, we asked you, the fans, for your ‘One Word Reviews’ of PNE’s start to the season that has seen us amass 10 points in 6 games.
Here were some of your responses on Twitter:
Pleasing— Adam Bird (@adambirdy1) September 2, 2019
Encouraging.— Sam Wilkins (@wickedwilk) September 1, 2019
Solid— Mike Parkinson (@lexon35) September 1, 2019
Awesome— Karen (@Karen13492484) September 1, 2019
On the whole, the feeling among the fans seems to be one of encouragement.
Despite a host of injuries, a last minute transfer debacle and a woeful opening day defeat, Alex Neil has engineered some impressive results with limited tools at his disposal.
Our first home game saw us dismantle local rivals Wigan with ease. And despite losing away at Swansea in a topsy-turvy game at the Liberty Stadium, we then went on to bounce straight back.
We breezed past Championship strugglers Stoke with a rather makeshift starting 11, before making it a trio of home wins agaisnt a buoyant Sheffield Wednesday side.
In the League Cup, Alex Neil switched it up and his decision to do so paid dividends. In Round One, we made light work of Bradford before defeating Hull City in a perfect penalty shootout after a cagey 90 minutes; earning us a home tie against the Champions of England, Manchester City.
And an entertaining, promising start to the season culminated on Saturday with an important point taken away from Nottingham Forest at The City Ground.
But let’s not fool ourselves. There are still concerns hanging over the imbalance of our squad, particularly surrounding depth.
For one, we are merely 6 games deep, yet we have already seen a variety of fullback options used.
Both Darnell Fisher and Andrew Hughes have suffered from injury-hit starts, meaning orthodox right-back Joe Rafferty has been deployed at left-back, while, most recently, last season’s second highest goalscorer Alan Browne has found himself slotting in at right-back.
But, perhaps more alarmingly is Alex Neil’s lack of trust in our only available recognised striker, Jayden Stockley.
Stockley, who joined in last season’s January window, was largely expected to feature heavily this season, yet the former Exeter hitman just doesn’t fit the mould of an Alex Neil striker.
This immediately begs the question – why did we sign him?
Stockley is known for his clinical finishing and ability as a target man, but lacks the mobility Alex Neil prioritises in his number nine.
With Moult out for the season, Maguire already struggling for fitness and veteran striker Nugent also lacking fitness at the age of 34, Stockley should be relishing the opportunity to shine, yet he’s struggled to make an impact this season and now looks like he’s already edging his way towards a premature exit in January or the close season.
With the likes of Green, Bodin and Barkhuizen all starting ahead of Stockley as the sole striker, the writing is clearly on the wall for the £750,000 signing.
But while these concerns do exist, we can be thankful that we have a manager in Alex Neil who is an expert in adaptability.
I just really hope the injuries and lack of depth in certain areas don’t catch up with us and that we can continue to produce a range of goals across the midfield.
Unlikely hero Daniel Johnson has been at the forefront of Preston’s goal threat, but Billy Bodin, Josh Harrop and Sean Maguire have also showed signs of productivity.
Paul Gallagher has been immense in spells, while Ben Pearson continues to pull the strings in the middle.
Ryan Ledson continues on his upward trajectory, while Declan Rudd has actually managed to evade scrutiny for multiple games.
Despite evident concerns at fullback and up front, there have also been many pleasant surprises.
With a home fixture against Brentford on the horizon and a cup tie against Manchester City to embrace, it is to be hoped that our momentum can continue after this prorogation and that Alex Neil will keep on getting the best out of our mismatch squad.