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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Preston North End

Dave Seddon of the Lancashire Evening Post on North End

9 April 2021

Preston are 16th in the Championship table ahead of Saturday’s clash and their place in the division is pretty much secure for another year, with 48 points on the board and six games to play. How would you sum up their season?

It has been a mixed bag, leaning on disappointment more than anything else. They started off the season with this really bizarre difference between the home and away form, losing the first five or six at Deepdale despite a really strong record on the road. They won 4-2 at Brentford, drew at Norwich and won at Reading when they were league leaders. They stabilised and then they had only won three times in the calendar year before the 1-0 win over Swansea on Easter Monday. It has been a pretty disappointing year and, at one point, it seemed as though they might fall towards the relegation zone and you’d argue they could still do with another win on the board just to make sure of safety, mathematically. At the start of the season, with how things were with the pandemic and the finances in football, you thought they might have had a little chance at being around those play-off places, but they’ve been nowhere near, really.

Alex Neil left the club during the March international break after four years in charge at Deepdale. Do you think he had taken the club as far as he could?

I think so, yes. They had a big turnover of players in January, with eight in and eight out. Some of those were only players who had gone out on loan to get first team football elsewhere, so it wasn’t eight big transfers in and out but they lost Ben Pearson, Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher in the space of four days, which you could say chopped Neil’s legs off at the knee. I just think, by the end in a very hard season, Neil ran out of ideas and lost a bit of faith in himself, really. I wasn’t one of those thinking he should have gone earlier; I think the time he went was probably about right. He’s the sort of manager who will go somewhere else and do very well, but at Preston, it was the same voice around the place and he was seeing the same things but wasn’t sure how to change them. It was probably the right timing for everyone, really.

Former Brentford boss Uwe Rosler has been linked with the job, while Gareth Ainsworth is one of the bookies’ favourites to take over, but since Neil’s departure, Frankie McAvoy has been in charge and picked up four points from his first two games at the helm. What do you make of his prospects of taking the job full-time?

The first two results are encouraging but I don’t think they will make a decision until the end of the season, when he will have had eight games in charge. If they pick up a few more decent results, I think he’s in with every chance, if he wants it. I can’t really see Rosler being in the reckoning but I can see why he might be interested but Ainsworth has a good chance, with his connections at the club having played there in three previous spells. At the moment, if McAvoy was to continue this run of form and finished with four wins and a couple of draws, I think he will be in with a chance.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?

Ryan Ledson (above) is playing very well at the moment. He got the captain’s armband at Swansea with other being missing and is a very enthusiastic midfielder. He was seen as Ben Pearson’s deputy for a couple of years at North End but he has come into his own this season and shown he’s not just a holding midfielder. They have started to play with two strikers since McAvoy took over as it was just Ched Evans up front on his own in Neil’s last few games and he was being asked to chase down aimless balls down channels. He has now got Emil Riis up front with him and those two are causing a few problems.

How is McAvoy likely to set up his side against the Bees?

In McAvoy’s first two games, he has played two different formations. Against Norwich, he played a 4-4-2 with a diamond, but at Swansea, he went for a 3-5-2, which worked pretty well and looked a lot more solid. If I was to second guess, I’d guess he might be tempted by the latter for the Brentford game.

I know you often joke about how Preston tend to struggle against Brentford, but they have, in fact, won three of the last five meetings, including the 4-2 comeback win back in October. What’s your score prediction?

I’m going to stick my neck on the line and go for 2-1 to Preston.

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