It’s been on the cards for a while now but after another loss in the Championship to Luton Town at the weekend, manager Alex Neil left Preston North End by mutual consent.
It won’t be the way that many fans – and the man himself – wanted his tenure at the club to end. After taking over at the Lilywhites, he has proven to be arguably one of our best and most important managers in recent years.
A seventh-placed finish in his first campaign in charge was an undoubted highlight, with only results elsewhere meaning we missed out on a play-off place.
However, contrast that with recent weeks and you can see the toll the job had begun to have on Neil. He looked unsure of his best tactic and best starting eleven, robbed of his best players in the middle of the season and with not much money to bring in apt replacements.
His signings look promising and Ched Evans – an inherent Neil decision and purchase – has proved a lot of people wrong with his displays up front.
However, this is a results business and those results haven’t been coming.
That comes down to a few people at the club, not just Alex Neil. Advisor Peter Ridsdale has a lot of sway in terms of signings and sales and to let most of the spine of the team leave the club during the winter transfer window is bound to have a negative effect. Who knows what other decisions he has made for Neil too.
Neil though has also looked unaware of how to pick up those next three points and the club’s displays haven’t seen them losing with dignity and going down with a fight but rather with a whimper. There have been no ‘unlucky 1-0 losses’ only ‘1-0 borefests’ and ‘4-0 humblings.’ With the football not being particularly easy on the eye, this had only further fuelled the calls for him to leave – and now, the former Norwich man has.
It’s definitely a shame to see him go – and many North End fans can appreciate the work he has put in at the club and how impressive he has been at Deepdale during his stint with us. Neil will have wanted to – and certainly looked the most likely to – finally lead us into a play-off or promotion spot and potentially the Premier League.
He very nearly did and at times we looked like a team that belonged with the big boys at the top of the table despite our modest budget. In the end though, perhaps his overachievement and the lack of recruitment finally caught up with us and it’s Alex Neil who has paid the price for it.
With the news filtering in via Twitter, here is how some of our fans reacted to the news:
it’s a shame it’s ended like this for Alex Neil. A top manager who will do well in his next job. Been overachieving with a league one/low championship squad challenging for the play offs. Over 20 million from player sales, massively let down not being backed financially. #pnefc
— Mo (@mopatel4) March 21, 2021
All anger and frustration aside it’s genuinely saddening Alex Neil’s time at the club is ending this way. Thanks for all you’ve done gaffer. Good luck in the future. #pnefc #EndofanEra #footballsucks pic.twitter.com/L019vLW4pM
— Rick Harrison (@Rick_H1988) March 21, 2021
As stale as it ended, got to thank Alex Neil for providing some of the best away days we've had, I'm sure if back and if he sticks to the style of play he started with, he will be a success elsewhere #pnefc
— Jonny Ellithorn (@JonnyEllithorn) March 21, 2021
Neil has paid the price for the mismanagement of contracts and lack of forward planning above him IMO. A very good manager who will no doubt go on to better things. Wish him well. #pnefc
— Dan Watson (@Djwatson92) March 21, 2021
Thank you Neil. You took this club a long way and maybe in another world you could have been the man to take us to the prem. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Good luck in the future and thanks for everything🙏🏽#PNE #pnefc
— All Things North End (@AllChamp1onship) March 21, 2021
— Keith Harrison (@kharrison_68) March 21, 2021
Would actually like to see Alex Neil back at the club some day as manager again. Under a different ownership and different hierarchy. Dont become bad overnight. The fella was decent. #PNEFC
— Lee Turnbull (@LeeTurn89905353) March 21, 2021
A lot of the club’s fans believe that perhaps it was the right time to part ways with the Scot then but also believe that the underlying issues with performances and results may not be entirely down to the man in charge but also because of the powers above too – namely the handling of signings, sales and windows by Peter Ridsdale.
The overriding feeling is one of sadness that Alex Neil has departed after four seasons but, at the same time, a feeling that it was entirely necessary – but there are still other issues that need attending to at PNE and they don’t start and end with the manager.