Injuries leave Preston negotiating tricky campaign - Interview
Thursday, 17th Jan 2019 19:29 by Clive Whittingham
After pushing the play-offs reasonably close last season, Preston have found their team disrupted and their results more inconsistent as a result in 2018/19 according to Deepdale regular Joe Smith.
Yours looks like a season in three bits so far so let’s start with the slow start – just the one win (against us) in the first 11 league games, why was that?
Pre-season and the first game of the season against QPR showed much promise - scoring goals and winning on the opening day of the season thanks to a goal by Alan Browne and a magnificent save by Declan Rudd right at the end of the game. However, that said, injuries to Seani Maguire and Billy Bodin forced Alex Neil's hand to bring in Brandon Barker and Lukas Nmecha on loan from Manchester City, which to begin with caused an imbalance to the team and Neil struggling to find his best 11. As the weeks went by the team was averaging two or three changes game to game ranging from keeper to centre forward and consistently losing games.
Then a great run of one defeat in 12 games including some big wins – four goals scored against Brentford, Blackburn and Wigan – what brought about that improvement?
The game that changed everything in North End's fortune's was the 3-3 draw away at Aston Villa in which he picked a team based on his most experienced players and Chris Maxwell saved a penalty deep into stoppage time. From there the players took heart and responsibility for the situation they found themselves in. Convincing wins against Wigan and Blackburn at Deepdale were the particular highlight in the run of one defeat in 12, the forwards scoring goals and playing really well. A settled 11 brings confidence, consistency and the form of Callum Robinson was turning heads as he was our match winner on so many occasions. The away win at Bristol City was huge.
And then off the side of a cliff again, no wins in six, out of the FA Cup at home to Doncaster, what’s the problem?
Millwall at Deepdale in early December was our last win in the league and now feels such a long time ago. In that time there have been so many disappointing defeats- losing Ben Pearson for four games after his sending off at Sheffield Wednesday unhinged all the good work and the strides we'd made as a team up until then. Battling draws against Aston Villa and Swansea have eased the defeats to Hull and Rotherham over the festive and New Year period however North End are still struggling to win games. The less said about the defeat to Doncaster in the cup the better.
How would you assess the job Alex Neil has done/is doing? What’s the general consensus towards him?
After finishing seventh last season and North End progressing in so many areas under Neil's guidance the faithful are very willing to give the manager every opportunity to turn this season around, however just staying in the division now is the aim of everybody connected with the club. Alex Neil's ethos has always been hard work and consistency, which at times North End have shown but having too many weaknesses and being careless as a team has cost the manager so many times this season. It's really highlighted where people think we SHOULD be and where we actually are. Alex is no mug and he like the players will want to turn this season around and we'll stick with him.
You’ve signed Jayden Stockley from Exeter which looks like exactly the sort of signing Preston have made a big success of in recent years, happy with him?
Stockley coming in has given everyone a lift, with all our injuries to the attacking players, having a confident mainline centre forward is pleasing to see and given time he will score goals.
Any more incomings and outgoings rumoured in January? Any names mentioned? What do you need?
No more outgoing's for now but Neil is looking to bring in a right back to compete with Darnell Fisher and stop him from having to play centre back Tom Clarke there.
How do you see the rest of the season going?
The season now is purely based on staying in the division. However the supporters are licking their lips at the prospect of playing Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan away from home second half of the season and hoping that North End can keep up the bragging rights of being The King's of Lancashire by beating them all away from home.
The Twitter @JoeSmith2610
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