Alarming start, promising recovery - Interview
Thursday, 30th Sep 2021 16:12 by Clive Whittingham
Preston lost their first three games of the season to back up summer suspicions of a struggle ahead, but now arrive at Loftus Road unbeaten in eight. We spoke to Josh McLoughlin for the latest at Deepdale...
Not a happy end to last season and Alex Neil got the chop - how did you assess the campaign?
Our season never really got going to be truthful. It was always going to be a weird one with no fans but with numerous impending contract situations ahead of us, it distracted from what we could do on the pitch. In January we lost Darnell Fisher, Ben Pearson and Ben Davies; three key players for us over the past few years whilst Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson signed extensions. By the point we were looking over our shoulders. There was a huge turnover of players with lots of new ones arriving in January as well. Luckily we managed to find a bit of form to escape any danger.
Alex Neil had done a great job with a limited budget since arriving in 2017. His departure was inevitable with the way our form was at the time but it was still sad to see him go. The partnership between him and the club just reached a natural conclusion. Both needed a fresh start and I’ve no doubt Neil will be successful in his next job.
Frankie McAvoy felt like a bit of a cheap option, albeit with some positive results as caretaker, what did you make of it and how has he done?
It was a tough one because like you say the results when he took over were great and much needed. We were one of the best teams in the form table after he took over. But a lot of the teams we played didn’t have much to play for and it’s completely different when you have the job full time. It was an important summer in terms of getting the right manager and the right players in. I don’t think many would have honestly picked McAvoy given the other options that would have been keen on the job. I would have liked Gareth Ainsworth personally.
McAvoy is a likeable character though and the fans are behind him. It helps we have Paul Gallagher as part of the back room staff as well. There’s a good team spirit and high morale throughout the squad which always helps. We lost the first three games this season so it’s easy to quickly point the finger at a cheap appointment and someone who has never been a manager before. It’s turned around since then and we’ve become a lot harder to beat.
How has the season started?
First three games ended in three defeats and they were atrocious. We looked way off the pace, the formation didn’t work and we didn’t look like scoring. We have improved a lot since then. He’s stuck with the formation but made a few changes to the personnel and players like Josh Earl and Patrick Bauer coming back into the side have made us a lot better. We still need to score more but in Emil Riis we have a striker who’s enjoying himself this season and at the time of writing has scored seven in all competitions already. We’ve ground out some good draws against Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion who have far more quality available to them than we do.
PNE league results so far…
We’ve probably been wanting a striker for the past transfer windows. We play two up front these days with wing backs and no out and out wingers. It means the wingers we do have in the squad are now utilised as part of a front two. So in actual fact we’re now overloaded in that area with Scott Sinclair and Tom Barkhuizen decent options up there.
Josh Murphy, Ali McCann and Connor Wickham all arrived late on. Murphy is a decent option to have with a bit of flair. McCann has arrived with plenty of praise from Scotland and has added a bit of bite to the midfield in a Ben Pearson type role. Wickham could be good, but has inevitably already got injured.
Aside from that we brought back Sepp van den Berg on loan from Liverpool again and he is already a fan favourite. A centre back converted into a right wing back you can tell he’s enjoying every minute playing for us. They say you should never get attached to loan players but it’s already too late for that. Still only 19, I would love to see him play at Deepdale for a bit longer.
Ins: >>> Ali McCann, 21, CM, St Johnstone, £1.2m >>> Liam Lindsay, 25, CB, Stoke, Undisclosed >>> Jamie Thomas, 24, CF, Bamber Bridge, Free >>> Izzy Brown, 24, AM, Chelsea, Free >>> Matthew Olosunde, 23, RB, Rotherham, Free >>> Connor Wickham, 28, CF, Unattached, Free >>> Josh Murphy, 26, LW, Cardiff, Loan >>> Daniel Iversen, 24, GK, Leicester, Loan >>> Sepp van den Berg, 20, CB, Liverpool, Loan
Outs: >>> Jayden Stockley, 29, ST, Charlton, Undisclosed >>> Billy Bodin, 29, LW, Oxford, Free >>> Josh Ginnelly, 24, LW, Hearts, Free >>> Graham Burke, 27, AM, Shamrock Rovers, Free >>> Louis Moult, 29, ST, Burton, Free >>> Paul Gallagher, 36, AM, Retired >>> David Nugent, Old as fuck, ST, Released >>> Jacob Holland-Wilkinson, 18, CF, Fylde, Loan >>> Ethan Walker, 19, LW, Fylde, Loan >>> Tom Bayliss, 22, CM, Wigan, Loan
How has Ben Whiteman gone for you so far? We were very keen on him ourselves at the time he moved...
He’s a very good player. Technically astute, with a keen eye for a pass and has popped up with a couple of goals this season. We have a lot of competition in centre midfield but Whiteman provides a calming influence on a relatively young team.
How do you see the season going?
At the start I would have said we’d be battling relegation. The situation with points deductions at Derby County and maybe Reading have helped that though. But we have improved. The formation took time to get used to, but the players understand their roles now. We still need more goals though. Fans aren’t too expectant this season but if we can stay around mid table looking upwards and beat Blackpool twice this season then fans will be happy.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @Josh_McLoughlin
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When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to Durham and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.
When Saturday Comes #8 by wessex_exile
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this When Saturday Comes blog.
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
When Saturday Comes #6 by wessex_exile
After over a month of absence, the U’s finally make a welcome return to the JobServe for a home league fixture. Sutton seem to have quickly got over their Covid-19/ injury crisis/ international call-up woes, fielding a team the following Tuesday that was strong enough to push Cardiff City hard in a narrow 3-2 defeat to the Championship side. But enough of that, I haven’t seen the outcome of the EFL investigation, but I don’t doubt the decision has either already been or will be rubber-stamped. Gamesmanship – maybe, but I hope at least the EFL are now a bit more alert to the fact that some might think they can treat them like chumps when it suits their purpose? Still – it’s great to be back home isn’t it!
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