This one is a little different as we have Bob from Preston Updates who technically isn’t a writer for us but he has contributed to posts on the site before and he’s also been on the podcast a few times, too. So, I figured why not get him involved as well.
A combination of limited preparation, lots of games in a short period of time and the new five substitute rule will mean that we see increased levels of squad rotation. Switching personnel isn’t something Alex Neil is afraid of doing, and it is likely that the Scotsman will do plenty of tinkering over the coming weeks.
I will caveat this by saying that Neil does have his favourite 11-13 players, and he may well stick with this core group – the likes of Davies, Pearson, Maguire and DJ. But, with injury concerns heightened and fitness issues inevitable, we will undoubtedly see more fringe players featuring on match days.
I envision more minutes for the likes of Ledson, Potts, Bayliss, Harrop and Stockley. Fan frustration with Bayliss’s lack of involvement is no secret, and with such a congested fixture list, the Coventry starlet could feature in North End’s engine room.
The restart is also a chance for marquee signing Scott Sinclair to kick on and finally pick up Callum Robinson’s mantle. The veteran winger hasn’t enjoyed a glowing start to life at Deepdale, but I sense that his ability is just waiting to be unleashed.
It may also be that there is little tactical deviation away from home with a lack of home advantage. Arguably, the home advantage will be eliminated. Other than the psychology cues that playing at home may provide, there will be no crowd to feed off. I imagine that this will probably harm the bigger sides more, but the impact will be negligible.
We have a tricky return to football with a trip to Luton, who have recently re-appointed Nathan Jones. With the sniff of survival still in their noses, Luton’s players will be aware that a win against PNE could put them to within three points of safety.
Games against Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Huddersfield should prove “easier” tests, but games against Forest, Brentford and Bristol City will be tough – although we did pick up 5 points in the reverse fixtures of these three games.
What remains is essentially a nine-game campaign. I think 15 points is a realistic target to aim for and this would take us to a total points tally of 71. This would have seen us fall short of the play-offs last season and is 2 points short of our points tally the season before that when we finished 7th. In fact, it wouldn’t have been enough for 6th spot in the past 5 seasons.
Can we keep our play-off place? I hope so, but this is Preston North End we’re talking about. Nothing is ever straightforward and I can see the season being settled on the final day at Ashton Gate.
If you haven’t already, make sure you listen to this week’s podcast. The lads had Lawro join them to talk about the upcoming nine-game campaign.