Dissenting voices at sixth-placed North End - Interview
Thursday, 5th Mar 2020 21:41 by Clive Whittingham
Preston are defying the odds to mount a play-off push against teams with far bigger budgets, but you'd never guess it to read their message boards. We caught up with Deepdale Digest for some insight.
How would you assess/judge Preston’s season overall?
DD: - Our season so far has been one of highs and lows; an outstanding start, a tricky spell in November due to injuries, and now some frustrating inconsistency. Still, before the start of the season, if you'd told me we'd be sat sixth with ten games to go, I'd have certainly taken it given how we're punching above our weight and taking on clubs with much bigger budgets.
Five wins from seven has you back in the top six, but three defeats in the last four (albeit against Fulham and West Brom), how are you playing and how’s the mood?
DD: Defeats at West Brom and Fulham were frustrating, but there's no great shame in losing to two of the top three teams in the league. The concern comes in a lack of goals; we've scored just twice in the last four games, and one of those was a penalty. Not signing a striker in January may be our downfall in this playoff race, as we don't quite have the firepower to really put teams away when we're on top.
Preston league results so far…
This message board thread has got a bit of surprised attention from QPR fans on our site, disbelieving a team in sixth on a limited budget is coming under so much fire from its own fans – is that just keyboard warriors? What’s the general mood?
DD: I think every team has fans that overreact to every defeat, but the mood is a little deflated at the moment. By pushing ourselves into the top six for most of the season, the expectation rises. If we were sitting fourteenth and lost away at West Brom and Fulham, it maybe wouldn't garner such angry reactions as it does when you're sixth. We're really in the business end of the season now, and there's maybe just a little nervousness setting in because we hold that last playoff spot. If you take a step back and look at our season as a whole, we've done better than expected and ultimately control our own fate. With the lack of money we have compared to those in the playoffs and those chasing us down, a bit of perspective is maybe required.
Summer Ins: >>> Tom Bayliss, 20, CM, Coventry, £1.98m >>> Patrick Bauer, 26, CB, Charlton, Free >>> David Nugent, 34, CF, Derby, Free >>> Andre Green, 21, LW, Villa, Loan
Summer Outs: Callum Robinson, 21, CF, Sheff Utd, £7m >>> Marnick Vermijl, RB, Maastricht, Free >>> Andy Boyle, 28, CB, Dundalk, Free >>> Michael Howard, 19, CF, Morecambe, Free >>> Chris Maxwell, GK, Hibs, Loan >>> Tom Stead, 19, CB, Chorley, Free >>> Marnick Vermijl, 27, RB, Maastricht, Free >>> Tommy Spurr, LB, Released >>> Ben Pringle, CM, Released >>> Graham Burke, 25, CF, Shamrock Rovers, Loan >>> Chris Maxwell, 28, GK, Hibs, Loan >>> Connor Simpson, 19, CF, Accrington, Loan >>> Jack Armer, 18, LB, Lancaster, Loan >>> Josh Earl, 20, LB, Bolton, Loan
Winter Ins: >>> Scott Sinclair, 30, LW, Celtic, Undisclosed
Winter Outs: >>> Chris Maxwell, 29, GK, Blackpool, Free
And Alex Neil? Looks to be doing a good job to us but people on there seem to hate him!
DD: Again, some people love to think they know better than Neil. Yes, some decisions are a little baffling, like playing Seani Maguire week in and week out despite scoring just once in his last 28 games, but he's done an incredible job here. People quickly forget that he's still only 38, he has a promotion from this league on his CV as well as a full season in the Premier League. He has clearly improved North End from Simon Grayson's time as manager, but again, people sometimes don't quite appreciate what's right in front of their eyes. Personally speaking, there aren't too many managers in the division I'd take over Neil.
We’ve often held PNE up as a bit of a model club for ourselves, particularly with wage bill and scouting, with our new tighter budget, but your latest accounts made for unusually grim reading with a ballooning wage bill and big loss picked up by the chairman. How do Preston fans feel about the situation?
DD: - It's a weird situation with our finances, as there are a lot of 'soft loans' to our owner Trevor Hemmings. Compared to many Championship clubs, we're relatively well-run, but we need to sell a big player every year really; in 2018 we sold both Jordan Hugill and Greg Cunningham, and in 2019 it was Callum Robinson who went. 2020 will likely see Ben Pearson and Ben Davies go too, but this is the life of a fairly unfashionable northern club punching above their weight. Fans don't seem too worried just yet, and issues will likely be alleviated if big players are sold this summer - or if we manage to go up.
Player of the season candidates?
DD: It has to be Ben Pearson; the heartbeat of our midfield, the most talented player in the team, the player every opposition fan loves to hate. He's far, far too good for the Championship, and as he's now out for a month through injury, we'll probably see just how important he really is.
Weak links in the side?
DD: The weak area is the attack; as noted, Maguire has only scored once in 28 games, David Nugent and Jayden Stockley have combined for just three goals this season and Scott Sinclair hasn't quite got going yet. Without Pearson, our midfield will lack a little bit of bite too.
Realistic promotion contender this year or destined to fall short?
DD: If you'd asked me a few weeks ago I'd have said we're a real contender, but this patch of three defeats in four has me worried again. I think we can gain a playoff place, but I sadly doubt we have the firepower to make it to the Premier League.
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