It’s been a rather quiet and unassuming pre-season for Preston North End. With games cancelled, fixtures moved behind closed doors and a lack of fresh faces, it’s led to a number of fans claiming it to be one of the most lacklustre pre-seasons in recent memory.
At the end of the day, that’s all it is – a pre-season. The games are irrelevant, mere ways to build fitness in our important players and test out new tactics and formations.
However, it does allow some players to perhaps make a case for a place in the team when the competitive action gets back underway, it allows fans and staff alike to get a look at the new boys and some of the old faces to see who looks lively and what works and what doesn’t and gets the fans hyped up for the new campaign.
With that in mind then, we thought it might be quite good to do a brief evaluation of the pre-season. Who have been the standouts? What have been the key things to take away and learn from going into the next Championship season?
We haven’t had an awful lot to look at – the Manchester United game was cancelled and the Bamber Bridge and Manchester City games were moved behind closed doors – but there are still some takeaways to be had.
The Standouts and Good Points
The emergence of some talented youth
This is the part of the article where you can feel free to disagree with us entirely but here is who has come out of pre-season looking like they are raring to go for North End this year.
We should start by giving credit to all of the young lads who were given the chance to perform. There isn’t one youth team player who can come away from pre-season feeling as though they haven’t given themselves a chance of playing some first-team minutes in 2021/22. Noah Mawene impressed early doors against Bamber Bridge and Joe Rodwell-Grant managed to bag a goal against Wigan Athletic, meaning he was our joint-highest scoring forward since the Brig game.
Lewis Leigh – who has been handed the number 17 shirt ahead of the new season – has also put in a series of impressive displays in the middle of the field and Ethan Walker, Josh Seary and co have all put their names in the hat for some proper gametime going forward.
Impressive first-team players
Who in the first-team showed they were ready for the coming campaign? Pretty self-explanatory but last year’s Player of the Season Ryan Ledson was obviously a star performer. His passing and vision could be important for us this year – the only issue is maybe the fact he is more forward-thinking than Ben Pearson and is therefore not a like-for-like replacement for him leaving us perhaps slightly weaker in front of the defence.
Ben Whiteman has also made his case for pinning down a midfield spot alongside Ledson. He bagged two goals in two games during the Scottish leg of the pre-season and some of his link-up play was superb.
Alan Browne remains consistent and Declan Rudd was, after a long-term injury, able to prove that even if we sign Daniel Iversen, he remains a decent option in-between the sticks at the club.
Let’s also give some credit to a player who hasn’t ACTUALLY signed for us but remains someone who has no doubt earned his chance at a contract in Jamie Thomas. To jump up to the EFL after playing in non-league and look so impressive is no mean feat and that’s exactly what he did. Thomas scored against Accrington Stanley and then started against Wigan and looked solid. He tested the goalkeeper well and was unlucky not to score again. With the club short of strikers – and no signing on the horizon yet – it might be worth taking a punt on him. What’s the worst that could happen?
The forwards have also come in for a lot of stick this pre-season due to their lack of goalscoring prowess (after the game against Bamber Bridge, the only two forwards to score were Jamie Thomas, the trialist from Brig and Joe Rodwell-Grant, the youth teamer). However, Seani Maguire did look bright despite his lack of finishing (his hold-up play and movement were sharp and he looked one of the brightest of our forwards) and Emil Riis is another who looked lively but just could not buy a goal.
The lessons to be learned
We need a striker. Desperately.
Ched Evans proved to be a solid addition after his move to Deepdale in January but looked timid in front of goal during pre-season and struggled to register a shot on target. Even though Riis and Maguire looked decent enough, they too struggled to find the net and it is an issue that certainly needs resolving ahead of the actual season.
We’ve struggled to find someone to score consistently since Jordan Hugill left – last year, it was winger Scott Sinclair who was our highest scorer with just nine goals – and the issue seems to be getting worse and worse because we look less and less likely to score.
If Peter Ridsdale and Trevor Hemmings can’t see the urgency in the need to add extra options up top – not just strikers but on the wings too – then they’re in the wrong business.
Another point comes regarding the tactics. Frankie McAvoy certainly has earned his chance to manage PNE full-time and he did superbly at the back end of the season but there’s a question over whether his tactic is working well enough. We haven’t had the greatest results and the five at the back has sometimes seen us not play great football.
What To Do Going Forward
Youth has proven it deserves a chance and if we do end up not signing another striker or winger, then surely it’s worth throwing Ethan Walker or Rodwell-Grant into the mix. If we play with two strikers, Ched Evans is also probably going to get the nod due to our style of play and need to hold up the ball but surely Riis has earned the chance to start up top alongside him or Maguire if he isn’t lumped on the wing.
Ledson, Whiteman and Browne have also no doubt nailed down places in the starting eleven, while Rudd has proven he deserves to be kept if we sign Iversen freeing up room to let go of Ripley and Hudson permanently and on loan.
If anything, seeing some of our fringe players in pre-season has also shown that they could maybe do with less time on the bench and more time getting regular football elsewhere if they aren’t featuring with us, so it might be worth sending the likes of Hudson on loan for example.
Finally, some players have proven they aren’t up to the standard required with PNE. It would therefore be paramount to shift some of them if we can, to free up room to bring in better players going forward.
All of this, of course, depends on us actually spending some money and being willing to buy. Over to you Ridsdale and Hemmings.