For a number of years now, North End have bought players based on their potential. Ryan Ledson is one of those and he’s now starting to show signs of reaching that potential, something that the club clearly thought he was capable of reaching back in 2018.
The club has received a lot of criticism in terms of their activity in the transfer market, but this bit of business is now starting to look more and more like smart business.
He started his career at Everton where he was rated very highly by all the academy staff at Goodison Park.
In addition, a manager who was in charge for the period that Ledson was developing in the academy, Roberto Martinez, was also a big fan. The Spaniard made it clear he felt Ledson had what it takes to build himself a future on Merseyside as he progressed through the ranks at both club and country level.
But when Martinez was sacked by the Toffees, it seemed as though Ledson’s chances at first-team football left along with his manager’s departure.
His international career was also looking incredibly promising once upon a time, after captaining England’s Under 17’s to European Glory in 2014. He was in a team alongside the likes of Everton full-back Jonjoe Kenny, Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts, and now regular Liverpool Centre-half, Joe Gomez. Not a bad side to be the captain of.
Ryan clearly had a very impressive tournament that year, as he was named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament alongside the likes of Wolves’ Ruben Neves, Renato Sanches and Tottenham’s recent January signing, Steven Bergwijn.
However, following all of that, his international career never really materialised into anything above youth level.
First Team Football
After experiencing first-team football for the first time on loan to Cambridge, Ledson decided it was the right time to move on from Merseyside and find somewhere where he would play regular first-team football and hopefully work his way back up the football pyramid.
So, in August 2016, Ledson moved on from Goodison to join Oxford United in League 1. It was here where he really showed what he could do. Signing a 3-year deal seemed to give him some stability and he knew the next few years could prove crucial in his development as a promising, young, English midfielder.
North End are believed to have had an interest in Ledson for a while before capturing his signature, and it was reported they made a move for the former Everton man in January 2018, but the move never went past strong interest. But after winning Oxford’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Goal of the Season, he finally got his move back up north as Preston came calling once again in the summer of 2018.
Beginning of a New Chapter
On the 17th May 2018, Ledson completed his move to Deepdale. This move, as you would expect, delighted his new manager, Alex Neil. The Scot was keen to keep pointing out the fact Ledson had already played 100 league games at the age of just 20.
I think the first thing everyone saw when they typed in Ryan Ledson on YouTube to see what the midfielder was all about, is that tackle in the Merseyside Derby in his younger years.
Given Ben Pearson’s struggles at the time to keep cautions in single figures for the season, this didn’t scream much of an upgrade discipline wise. But when he’s got minutes, putting Leeds and Wigan away to one side, he has been very well disciplined and has shown some very mature performances.
Much like Ben Pearson last season, he has managed to cut out silly bookings and started to have more of an influence on games.
One game that sticks in my mind is the 2-0 home win against Brentford early last season. Ben Pearson missed out due to a bereavement and Ledson stepped up brilliantly. He even got the assist for Sean Maguire’s opener with a perfectly weighted cross for Sean Maguire who finished neatly. Ryan controlled and dictated the game day and as I mentioned, it’s one that has stuck in my mind.
Based on what Alex Neil explained when Ryan signed, he shared very similar traits to Ben Pearson. Strong passing, very good at breaking up play and a good engine. In the mind of some people, the perfect defensive midfielder. This certainly led me to believe he would be Ben Pearson’s natural replacement, a player who many now realise is a player of Premier League quality. However, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
As a matter of fact, he may well be Pearson’s perfect midfield partner. Reading a recent interview with Ryan in The Athletic, he talks about the position he favours the most and the players playing around him.
He describes how Alex Neil, as we all know likes to play with a number 6, number 8 and a number 10 in a midfield trio, so it provides a balance which is often much needed in the tight games we see week in, week out in the Championship. Ledson then goes on to discuss his position and how he wants to ‘be a number 8’ and ‘do everything’. Which leads him on to saying playing with Pearson is ideal because he’s confident to make a run forward with the reassurance “He’ll (Pearson) be there” to cover the back 4.
From this, it’s likely we will see more of the Pearson x Ledson partnership in midfield as they provide the ammunition for the 4 attacking-minded players playing ahead of them to score the goals.
Pre-season is a perfect opportunity to potentially play a different role, find a new position, and make yourself an option for the manager to consider for the starting XI in the build-up to the first game of the season.
I think it’s fair to say Ryan Ledson has taken that opportunity and played at a very high standard for a number of weeks now, including his form during the return of football at the end of last season. What has been most impressive to me, are his performances against strong opposition compared to the usual pre-season opponents.
It goes without saying, it’s great to help out clubs like Bamber Bridge, who I imagine benefit greatly from the money made from the annual friendly at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, but the upgrade in opposition this year has been refreshing, to say the least. But Ledson has performed consistently well against the big clubs and has certainly staked a claim for being in that starting XI consistently this season.
As for the start of the season despite only picking up 1 win, it’s been a solid enough start in my opinion and we have certainly been creating chances from midfield which Ledson is playing a massive part in. As discussed on one of our podcasts, in particular the Norwich game, we had one of our highest expected goal ratios since Alex Neil took over, and Ryan Ledson was creating chances left right and centre.
In fact, he has made the joint 5th most key passes in the Championship so far this season, tied with Josh Dasilva of Brentford and bettered only by Jamie Paterson of Bristol City, Sam Clucas of Stoke City and Gustavo Hamer of Coventry, according to WhoScored.
His pass to Scott Sinclair which managed to get through around 3 defenders in the build-up to Darnell Fisher’s goal, is a pass that, to me, screams Premier League potential. The type of player and quality we have missed for a while in my opinion. It was a similar pass to when we played Bradford in the cup last campaign. Ryan threaded a strong but perfectly weighted pass, this time into Tom Barkhuizen who slotted home.
We’ve seen a more recent example with his assist for Brad Potts’ first goal of the campaign against Brentford. He picked out Potts with a perfectly weighted through ball, Potts took it very well and shot into the net to put us ahead for the first time in our 4-2 away win in London last weekend.
His vision, alongside his mobility, is certainly something we are starting to see more of. Those attributes added to his positive aggression to press and win the ball back early is becoming a real joy to watch.
Future for North End
In terms of a future for both North End and Ryan, I think if we manage to keep hold of him for long enough, the future at Deepdale is certainly bright.
It was met with a very positive reaction when it was announced in mid-August that he had signed a contract extension that would keep him in PR1 until 2023. This ties down one of our key midfielders which is superb news.
Let’s hope the club can tie down some more of the central players like Ben Pearson, Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson in the coming weeks so that we can continue to see the development of whatever midfield trio is selected by the gaffer.
With Ryan Ledson slotting into that number 8 role, whatever happens in our midfield in the coming weeks, months and years, it’s clear to see that we have a bright young talent on our hands and someone who is very quickly becoming a key player for Preston North End football club.