Defying the odds - Interview Friday, 3rd Aug 2018 14:32 by Clive Whittingham
Preston North End fan, and host of the Championship Round Table podcast, James Vickers hopes problems in attack can be overcome enough for PNE to launch another against-the-odds play-off assault this season.
How do you think Preston will fair this season and why?
This season for Preston is all about picking up where we left off last year and carrying that momentum forward. Last season we narrowly missed out on the play offs after finishing two points behind Derby in seventh, this year the aim is to go one step further. Our pre-season was going as good as it could do up until this week, Sean Maguire (hamstring) has been ruled out for two or three months and Billy Bodin (knee) has been ruled out for six. These injuries happening so close to the start of the season is obviously a massive blow but the good thing is that we still have some time to get players in before the transfer window closes.
That being said I think the squad that we have fit and in place is better than it was last season and it is now up to other players to take their chance with both hands and step up to fill the void left by the two long term injuries. For the game on Saturday I think it’s crucial that we get off to a good start, but that won’t be easy against a well organised QPR side. I expect it to be a cagey game and one chance either way could win it. For a score prediction I would say 1-0 Preston.
As far as team selection I expect Neil to line up as followed; Rudd; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Browne; Barkhuizen, Burke, Robinson; Moult.
How would you assess last season overall? How has Alex Neil done in his first year?
JV: Last season went better than most Preston fans could’ve hoped for really. With Simon Grayson leaving just before the season started, many of us, myself included feared the worse. Neil came in and steadied the ship and to only miss out on the play offs by two points was a job well done, even though it would’ve been fantastic to get into them.
The job Neil has done, especially with a squad built by Simon Grayson, speaks volumes about his ability as a coach and I have been thoroughly impressed with him in his first 12 months in charge. As well as take the squad forwards, he has also helped develop players such as Ben Davies and Alan Browne, both being vital members of the starting eleven now.
If he can continue to build on last season I am optimistic that we can have another fantastic season.
What summer transfer business has been done and how do you feel about it?
JV: In a league full of big spenders our transfer business is always done on the trusted formula of ‘buy young and develop’ and this year it’s been business as usual. Graham Burke has been brought in from Ireland following in the footsteps of Seani Maguire and Alan Browne, and in pre-season has looked lively. Andrew Hughes has come in to replace fan favourite Greg Cunningham who signed for Cardiff last month.
On the most part the signings have looked promising in preseason so we will have to wait and see how they get on but so far I’m happy. The only disappointing thing so far has been the lack of strikers brought in. After Jordan Hugill was sold in January we have been short of depth up top and now with the injury to Seani Maguire we go into this weekend with only Louis Moult as a recognised striker on the books. I’m confident that in the next week or so Alex Neil will manage to get someone in, apart from that we should be fine.
What are you expecting/hoping for from this season?
JV: Play offs. The aim should always be to improve on last season and keep moving forwards so this time around it’s making sure that we get there. The squad is a young squad and last season’s disappointment will hopefully fuel them on even more this season. It won’t be easy by any means but I’m confident in the group we have and hopefully they can deliver.
Can Preston continue to punch above their weight in a league of big spenders? Is a play-off push realistic?
JV: That’s the million dollar question. Each season more and more money is thrown around the league, money that we simply don’t have so at some point we will need to look to that, but for now we continue to defy the experts and improve. Is a play-off push realistic? I think so, as I said we just missed out last season and we have kept the squad together. It won’t be easy but I think we can make another good run at them this year and fingers crossed get enough points on the board and see where we go from there.
Where is the squad strong, and where is it weak?
JV: The weakness at present is mainly in the lack of options up front. Bodin and Maguire are both out long term and the issue hasn’t been addressed yet. We ideally need two more in before the window shuts to be comfortable so if we can sort this I will be happy. As far as strengths go, there is a lot, and I’m very happy with the squad we have in place. The midfield is stacked, players like Pearson, Browne and Ledson give us fantastic youthful options in the centre of the park while Paul Gallagher adds experience. The majority of our play goes through them and to keep hold of them over the summer is a fantastic boost. We have great options in goal as well with Rudd and Maxwell both being number ones, it’s a great luxury to have and it brings the best out of both of them in order to nail down a starting place.
James hosts the weekly Championship Round Table podcast with episodes covering the goings on from across the Lancashire and District Senior League. Follow them @ChampionshipPod. You can read more from him, and our opinions on PNE, as part of our Championship Season Preview.
The Twitter @_JamesVickers, @ChampionshipPod, @loftforwords