Preston have had a tough start to the season after last season when they were a whisker away from the playoffs. Billy Grant chats to Bill Whisker to get the lowdown on PNE’s season so far and asks … is it just a blip?
Preston’s season so far. It’s been a bit of a disaster. What’s going wrong?
We won on the opening day then went on an awful run not winning again in the league for over two months. We had no problems scoring goals. We just couldn’t stop conceding at the other end. For a while it seemed like every time we scored we’d concede almost immediately. We scored two goals against Stoke, Bolton, Sheffield United, West Bromwich and Reading but failed to take three points from any of them.
Injuries haven’t helped your season. Do you think when you get key players back, you can get back on track or are the problems more deep rooted than that?
We lost Billy Bodin and Sean Maguire to injury on the eve of the season. It knocked us for six. Bodin had a good pre-season and was expected to kick on in his first full season and Maguire is our best out-and-out striker.
This made us change tack, after spending all summer looking for a target man we brought in striker Lukas Nmecha and winger Brandon Barker both on loan from Man City in the hope they could make a difference at the top end of the pitch. They are promising players who have had good games but so far neither has really nailed down a place in the team.
The fact Maguire is coming back to full fitness is a big relief to a lot of fans.
As well as injuries we have suffered from indiscipline. Ryan Ledson serving a ban for a red as well as Ben Pearson serving a ban for a red and a ban for accumulating yellows!
Alex Neil seems to blow hot and cold with the fans. Norwich fans were well behind him at one point. Then they went the other way. Do i sense a touch of negativity towards your manager at this present time?
Alex Neil had an instant impact at Norwich and the same can be said at Preston. A 7th place finish must be considered a success after two 11th place finishes. Things went wrong for him at Norwich and he’s got the opportunity now to prove he can produce sustained success.
I honestly believe he could have been sacked if we hadn’t fought back from 2-0 down at Villa. We followed that up by smashing Wigan 4-0. A late equaliser at Hull again shows spirit and is more evidence that the players are still playing for him. A fourth game unbeaten against The Bees, especially if it’s a win, would mean that even his harshest critics would be hard pressed to argue he hasn’t done well in turning round a situation which looked hopeless.
Twenty Five goals conceded – that has to be a worry. You only conceded 45 all season last time around and we’re not even one third of the way through the season. Sort the defence out and will this sort you out do you think?
This has been North End’s biggest problem. We’ve been scoring but shipping goals left, right and centre.
The keeper position has been an issue. Chris Maxwell is Preston’s best keeper in my opinion. He’s proven he’s a good keeper at this level. Declan Rudd is our other option between the sticks. He’s a player with a lot of potential that as so far remained unfulfilled. Rudd was given the nod at the start of the season but his performances were below par and now Maxwell is back in possession of the shirt and has been playing well.
Centre back is another position where Neil has had choices to make. Paul Huntington and Tom Clarke have been great servants to Preston and are vastly experienced. But being the wrong side of 30 means they’re not getting any quicker. Preston’s other options in that position are youngsters Ben Davies and Jordan Storey who’ve got the mobility and youthful exuberance but lack experience.
Alex Neil doesn’t appear to know his best pairing and this has contributed to our leaky defence. I expect youngsters Storey and Davies to play against The Bees but team selections have been hard to predict this season.
You do have some decent players. Who should we be looking out for?
Preston have been scoring goals. Callum Robinson has been in imperious form. Lukas Nmecha had his best game for Preston in our last home game and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finally got off the mark this Wednesday. Sean Maguire is back from a couple of months out with hamstring trouble and he is always likely to sniff out a chance or create something for a teammate.
Brentford come to Preston not having managed to win one match away from home all season. Does this fill you with hope? How do you think the match will pan out?
Brentford’s away form surprises me as they always look good at Deepdale and have scored a lot of goals in recent visits. Brentford like to play a certain way and I don’t think Dean Smith leaving will affect that. Thomas Frank has come in and I wish him well although I think Wednesday will be a steep learning curve for him with North End knocking in four or five goals without reply!
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