The January transfer window was one of the wildest and busiest windows that Preston North End have ever taken part in.
Several key members of the squad (expectedly) departed, we loaned out players who need more gametime and let go of a club legend in David Nugent (albeit on loan) but we actually made replacement signings for once, with EIGHT incomings (seven of those on loan!)
We’re certainly a team who are in the midst of a big transition and a squad overhaul was probably needed. It will no doubt take time for most of these players to settle but having brought in nearly a full starting eleven of new players and lost nearly the same amount, it’s time to cast a fresh eye over the new side and see our strongest and weakest areas.
Note that since we’ve signed a loan player in each area, the rating includes our score including the loan players and without (without is in brackets).
Goalkeepers – B (C)
Daniel Iversen came in on loan from Leicester City and he’s been fairly impressive in between the sticks so far for North End. With Declan Rudd suffering an injury that has ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign, it was essential that we brought in a new shot-stopper to tide us over until the end of the season (especially considering the alternative was Conor Ripley, who has so far failed to impress for us).
Iversen has shown flashes of brilliance and should be a good addition until the summer if he keeps it up. The issue lies with the fact he is only on loan – a number of fans are already eager to tie him up to a permanent deal (we also think it would be a good bit of business to bring Iversen in permanently based on what we have seen of him so far) but whether the Foxes will let go of him remains to be seen.
It’s definitely a matter of urgency though for the summer. Alex Neil clearly doesn’t trust Ripley, as if he did, he wouldn’t have rushed out to secure a short-term deal for Iversen. If Rudd was to suffer another injury it would leave us needing to play him and with a lot of fans (and seemingly the manager) not wanting to, it should be an area of focus for the summer. For now though, we’re okay.
Defenders – C (D)
We’re sure that a lot of North End fans will agree with this but we see the defence as the weakest part of the team right now.
It isn’t even the weakest as in ‘everywhere else is so strong that this just happens to be the weakest area.’ It’s a genuine issue and it will be worrying in the summer when we lose at least another two of our defenders and means we will definitely have to bring in some players on a permanent basis.
We’ve brought in Greg Cunningham on a loan deal (which has now been made permanent until the end of the season) which could prove to be an astute signing for Neil if he can stay fit. If he plays well and stays on past this season, then even better. We also signed Liam Lindsay and Sepp van den Berg on loan, both of who will help shore us up in the centre-back position (Lindsay actually was thrown straight into the mix the first game after he signed and has impressed ever since, so a permanent deal for him would be great business).
However, we have been severely depleted by this winter window. Ben Davies departed for Liverpool, which left us instantly weaker. Although we wish Ben all the best, it would have been a lot easier on us if he had left in summer as originally planned. Then, we were hit with a double blow, after it was revealed that Darnell Fisher was off to Middlesbrough.
It means our defence, who are also without Patrick Bauer due to a long-term injury, is a bit patchwork and haphazard at the moment. Andrew Hughes is a regular in the side and can be impressive but can also put in some woeful performances. He’s always at one extreme or the other. Joe Rafferty has gone from looking a decent player to looking like he shouldn’t belong anywhere near the starting lineup too. Paul Huntington is a club legend and although he can be a brick wall in some games, he perhaps isn’t cut-out to play at this level on a regular basis anymore and Jordan Storey is still young and perhaps needs regular gametime elsewhere first before becoming a regular for us.
It’s meant that usual midfielder – and often attacking midfielder at that – Alan Browne is more than likely going to fill in at right-back. He’s a great option there but it is a shame we have let the situation get to this point. Once Lindsay and Van den Berg leave in summer, we’ll really need to reboot our defence and make some permanent signings.
Midfielders – A-/B+ (B)
Midfield is arguably our strongest position. Despite losing not only one of our best players but one of the best midfielders in the Championship to Bournemouth in Ben Pearson, we still look well-stocked in the centre of the field.
With Pearson gone, Ryan Ledson can fill his position and has shown the same mix of passion and aggression that Pearson had (and that we, as North End fans, tend to secretly love in a player) and he looks as likely to try and play a decisive ball forward and take his side on an attack as he is to put in a two-footed defensive tackle.
Add in Ben Whiteman too. The former Doncaster Rovers man has already become a fan favourite to many after his reaction to Lucas Joao’s penalty miss against us (not to mention his superb showings on the pitch for us so far too). He already looks like a potential leader for us, barking orders and marshalling the midfield and defence.
Then, as an even bigger bonus, add in Jayson Molumby. Although only on loan (which is why the score is slightly affected based on the fact he’ll return to parent club Brighton in the summer) he too has already slotted in nicely and adds another dimension to our midfield. We aren’t even including Daniel Johnson, Browney, Tom Bayliss or Paul Gallagher.
We have plenty of options and plenty of GOOD options – so this scores highly.
Forwards – B- (C+)
Some might disagree but I think we have some decent options in attack. Although we do lack a striker who can start and score regularly there are certainly players there that can produce the goods. Tom Barkhuizen possesses incredible pace and can scare opposition players with it but sometimes lacks the finishing touch and has recently been hit and miss. Seani Maguire has proven he can be a poacher of a player at times but he doesn’t score regularly enough. Emil Riis looks talented and has impressed in flashes but hasn’t had a regular run in the side and therefore hasn’t scored regularly either.
Scott Sinclair is our highest scorer from the wing but he is liable to go missing for 85+ minutes of the game before producing a solitary moment of magic. It’s frustrating that he doesn’t offer more throughout the game but can you really drop him when he’s capable of popping up with a goal at any moment?
Brad Potts is another option but he doesn’t tend to offer much in attack too regularly either. Ched Evans was signed until the end of the season and in his appearance at the weekend he was quite good in terms of his hold up play and contributed a goal and he then went on to put in a MOTM performance against Blackburn Rovers. In terms of his ability then, he certainly is proving he can cut it in the Championship so far but whether he can keep it up remains to be seen.
The best addition attacking-wise comes in the form of youngster Anthony Gordon on loan from Everton. He’s featured in the Premier League for the Toffees and now brings his top tier experience to North End. He even impressed in his first start against Rotherham United despite our loss and is an exciting player to have. If he can work on his end product, we could have a very good player on our hands until the end of the season.
The issue lies when the loans and Evans’ deal ends. There’ll definitely be room for another winger in summer and it’ll leave just Maguire, Riis and Moult if Evans leaves (and if Stockley is sold, which is likely considering he’s been shipped out to Charlton Athletic on loan).
Overall then, the squad has certainly been boosted in some aspects. We have a very solid midfield to work with and if we can tie up a deal for Iversen, the goalkeeping position is also sorted. Our issues lie in a relatively weak defence and an attack that could do with perhaps another addition on the wing in a bid to help us score on a more frequent basis.