Preston started with a narrow defeat to Swansea on the opening day, were denied a win over Norwich a week later but did reach the third round of the Carabao Cup after wins over Mansfield and Derby. How would you summarise the season’s opening weeks?
It’s been a bit mixed, really. They had a poor result on the opening day against Swansea in a bit of a nothing match where there wasn’t a lot in it and Swansea scored with their first and only shot on target. I think North End only had one or two themselves, so that was a typical 1-0 game either way, whoever got the first goal. They had a good win over Derby in the Carabao Cup where they played well and came from behind, as well as a good draw at Norwich a couple of weeks ago. It was quite frustrating they didn’t win that, bearing in mind they were ahead until five minutes before the end. There’s been a bit of everything in there so far; nothing too alarming, but nothing to get too excited about either.
North End are yet to complete any signings this summer, with just a few weeks left of the extended transfer window. How badly have their plans been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?
Money has always been tight at North End because it’s run as a business rather than really splashing out. The fans always tend to question why they haven’t spent more but the budget is in the bottom five or six in the division, so with the COVID-19 situation, it’s probably tightened the belt even more. They’ve not made any signings yet and though I think they will do, it is probably only going to be a case of one player coming in. They’ve made a point of the fact they’ve paid the players all the way through and didn’t defer anyone’s wages throughout lockdown, so they’ve stayed loyal to the squad. But Alex Neil is like any manager and he wants to strengthen and I think they need to after falling short of the play-offs last season. I think the squad needs freshening up each transfer window, not massively but a new face or two would certainly do them good.
Should they be able to bring anyone in between now and 5 October, is bringing in that elusive goalscorer the main priority?
Definitely, yes – they need someone going forward. If you look at the squad, the midfield in particular is pretty well-stocked, while out wide and in defence they seem covered, too. Everyone wants a 20-goal-a-season striker but they don’t need someone to score that many, they just need someone to score a few more because the return from the strikers last year was low. Preston aren’t a team who play a style where they rely on 20-30 goals from the No 9 and no one else; they do tend to spread the goals around. But they do need more of a potent threat because they do create chances and sometimes they aren’t put away.
Which player has caught your eye in the first few weeks of the campaign?
I think Tom Barkhuizen, who scored an absolute screamer against Derby in the cup, has done well and then Ryan Ledson is probably the breakthrough player, if you will. He’s a midfielder who was signed from Oxford two years ago and had previously been seen as Ben Pearson’s deputy, where he didn’t get too many opportunities. But towards the end of last season, he started to get a lot more games and played five out of the last six. He started the first two league games of this season and has really caught the eye in a slightly different role, playing with Pearson now, where Pearson sits very deep. Ledson will go and join in, but he also will push forward and try to link the play.
How is Alex Neil likely to set up his side in west London?
A 4-2-3-1 seems to be Neil’s favoured formation, especially away from home. He likes a sitting midfielder with a bit more of a ball-player around him, a No 10 behind his striker and two wide players. He’s not changed too often from that over his three years at Deepdale, so I’d expect something like that.
Since 1990, Preston have only beaten Brentford once away from home; do you think their luck will change at the Brentford Community Stadium?
I think they’ll enjoy a change of scenery! The record at Brentford is shocking recently, so who knows: New stadium, new start?! It’ll be a tough game but I’ll sit on the fence and say 1-1.
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