Home woes and a manic January mark PNE's transitional season - Interview
Tuesday, 23rd Feb 2021 08:26 by Clive Whittingham
A huge squad turnover in the January transfer window forced by a series of difficult contract situations has added to the transitional feel of Preston's 2020/21 season. We spoke to Jake Oates at the From The Finney podcast, and blogger Deepdale Digest.
How's the season gone so far?
JO: Up and down to be honest. To quote the manager, and this will probably rile some of our fans, but there's no doubt it's been a season of transition with so much going on off the pitch in the way of out of contract players and then eight departures and eight arrivals in the January window.
DD: Frustrating to say the very least. Looked great at times, looked shambolic at times. Can't string any consistency together and attempting a mid-season rebuild was bizarre. Honestly, can't wait for this season to be over.
Preston league results so far…
Any particular reason you're so good away and poor at home?
JO: Honest answer, I've no idea. It could be that teams have figured out how to play against us at Deepdale and we haven't found a way to change our style of play at home to combat teams that sit in against us. I think away from home, more often than not, teams like to attack us more which suits us. Being able to hit teams on the break is where we've been very successful in recent years.
DD: My personal take is that we don't do so well when we're expected to take the initiative. Away from home we can sit in and counter, but when we have the ball against teams who sit in, we struggle to break them down with open play quality.
Alex Neil seems to divide opinion of PNE fans online, where are you with him?
JO: I was firmly "Alex Neil in" up until recently. Now, I'm not so sure. I do like Alex as a coach, I think he'll do very well in his career however, I do think we're coming to the end of the road. It feels like it's time for a change and he'll have been here four years at the end of this season, rarely do managers stay anywhere for five years these days. But, who knows what will happen. We aren't a reactive club at all really when it comes to making managerial changes so it's going to be an interesting period coming up for us. The football has been pretty poor of late, though. If he's going to be staying here that has to change.
DD: I'm still a fan but it's hard to ignore this season. Only Wycombe have lost more Championship games than us this season, and the style of play has taken a major step back from where it was in Neil's first season. I hope he can get some results soon and lead the rebuild this summer but the natives are growing restless now.
How's Ben Whiteman gone so far? Pretty gutted you pipped us to that one.
JO: Very good. I'm a big fan of Ben, as are most North End fans. With Paul Gallagher now 36 years old and his playing days seemingly numbered, Ben is about as close to a Gally replacement as we could have realistically brought into the club. His range of passing is superb and could have easily had one or two goals to his name already. He's a bit of work to do to scrub up defensively, but that will either come, or we'll find a way to involve him with out the need to be too defensive - give him more of a license if you will.
DD: Whiteman has looked good so far, very talented passer, his technique is superb. Slotted into the team well and looks like a player we can build around for years to come. Finding a consistent partner for him has to be a priority now.
Talk about your other January business and how you've come out of it, because there were some big comings, goings and stayings...
JO: It was a rollercoaster window by our usual standards. As I mentioned earlier in this, there were eight ins and eight outs. It's a lot and I don't think any club plans to do that much work in the window but because of our negligence in getting key players tied down to longer deals, our hands were forced as far as Ben Pearson, Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher were concerned. Three massive parts of our side in recent years, gone in one window. Add Patrick Bauer's season ending Achilles injury and you're looking at a good chunk of your first XI on any given matchday suddenly no longer there. As I said earlier, it's clearly a time of transition at the club.
DD: What a mad month it was. It was good to offload some fringe players even if only on loan, and you couldn't really stand in Ben Davies's way when Liverpool came calling. Ben Pearson's exit stings as he's gone to a Championship rival, and I was gutted to see Darnell Fisher go – unappreciated at times and now not even replaced, which seems strange. As for incomings, it's hard to get too excited about seven signings who aren't signed up beyond the end of the season, but Whiteman, Daniel Iversen and Jayson Molumby look talented. Greg Cunningham is a welcome addition and Anthony Gordon has huge potential but there's no chance of him staying. I wasn't a fan of the Ched Evans move personally, but he's performed better than I expected so far. Alan Browne staying put was huge, but we're still waiting for Daniel Johnson's form to come back after a disappointing first half of the season.
Summer Ins >>> Emil Riis, 22, CF, Randers, £1.35m
Summer Outs >>> Connor Simpson, 20, CF, Cork, Free >>> Tom Clarke, 32, CB, Salford, Free >>> Kevin O’Connor, 25, LB, Cork, Free >>> Jack Armer, 19, LB, Carlisle, Free >>> Josh Ginnelly, 23, LW, Hearts, Loan >>> Jack Baxter, 20, DM, Chorley, Loan >>> Ethan Walker, 18, CF, Carlisle, Loan >>> Michael Crowe, 24, GK, Released
Winter Ins >>> Ben Whiteman, 24, CM, Doncaster, £1.5m >>> Greg Cunningham, 29, LB, Cardiff, Undisclosed >>> Daniel Iversen, 23, GK, Leicester, Loan >>> Jayson Molumby, 21, CM, Brighton, Loan >>> Ched Evans, 32, CF, Fleetwood, Loan >>> Sepp van den Berg, 19, CB, Liverpool, Loan >>> Liam Lindsay, 25, CB, Stoke, Loan >>> Anthony Gordon, 19, LW, Everton, Loan
Winter Outs >>> Ben Davies, 25, CB, Liverpool, £1.7m >>> Darnell Fisher, 26, RB, Boro, £350k >>> Ben Pearson, 26, CM, Bournemouth, Undisclosed >>> Jayden Stockley, 27, CF, Charlton, Loan >>> Josh Harrup, 25, AM, Ipswich, Loan >>> Josh Earl, 22, LB, Burton, Loan
Where is the team strong and weak?
JO: We're strong in midfield and that's about it to be brutally honest with you. Our goalkeeper looks very good but he's only on loan until the end of the season as Declan Rudd is out injured (another casualty that needed to be sorted in January). Our defence is a bit all over the place. We're stocked with midfielders. Jayson Molumby has come in on loan from Brighton until the end of the season and has been really impressive so far. Again though, that's only a loan until the summer. Then we have Daniel Johnson, Paul Gallagher, Ryan Ledson, Ben Whiteman, Brad Potts can play in the centre, Alan Browne can play there when he's not standing in at right back and then we have Tom Bayliss on the bench who rarely gets a look in.
Up front we've got Emil Riis who has bags of potential at only 22 but he's been hit and miss recently and then we have Ched Evans. He's performed admirably on the field since he was given his first start a few weeks back but he's by no means the answer for a Championship club who apparently have Premier League ambitions.
Out wide we're not too bad either to be fair. We've Scott Sinclair who is quality but hasn't featured much recently. We've got Tom Barkhuizen who has bags and bags of pace and then Brad Potts has played out wide and we also brought in Everon youngster, Anthony Gordon. He's looked really bright and is very highly rated by the Toffees so let's hope he can have a good end to the season for us. I suspect he might get his second start for us on Wednesday night.
DD: We're fairly strong in midfield but this is clearly a team in transition. We look disjointed at the back and short of ideas up top. Iversen is a quality goalkeeper too – without him some of these recent results could have been different or even worse.
How do you see the rest of the season going?
JO: This might seem a bit negative but I just think we'll plod along to be honest. 10 points to the play-offs look an insurmountable challenge given the form we're in now but I do think we'll stay up. We'll just finish the season mid-table which in all honesty, is exactly what we are at the moment.
DD: I think we'll continue to lose a fair few with some wins dotted around, hopefully we won't get dragged into a relegation battle. Just give us fourteenth place and end the season now.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @deepdaledigest, @fromthefinney, @jioates
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Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #30 by wessex_exile
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