Part 4: Our Writers Give Their Thoughts on the Season Restart

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Next up we have the man behind our soon to be regular again “5 Things…” pieces, Josh McLoughlin, or ‘Big Josh’. You can find him on twitter here – @Josh_McLoughlin.

Here are his thoughts ahead of the season restart on Saturday…

Football is finally back and North End will continue their push for a play-off place but in very strange and unique circumstances.

Whilst I’m glad to see the lads back in action it’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to attend the games in person. If we do end up finishing into the top 6 it will be even harder to watch a play-off game just in front of the television. If we actually manage to get promoted, well… it would be amazing but a massive anti-climax to my 24 years as a fan.

Of course, the most important thing is that this all resumes with no hiccups and everyone remains safe and healthy. Other football around the world has already returned and it all seems to have gone to plan so far, so hopefully, we can follow suit in this country.

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Based on the football that has returned, it’s hard to judge any teams on their previous form having had 3 months off. Ours was pretty poor going into this break, so hopefully, we start afresh and kick on. We lost four out of the last five games but I don’t think that will have much bearing on the first few games back, it will mainly be down to fitness and also who can adapt best to the behind closed doors conditions.

As seen in the Bundesliga, home advantage counts for nothing anymore, with a lot more away wins than home wins seen since their league resumed. This could be seen as a positive with some tough away trips to Bristol City and Brentford among the games left to play. However, our home form had been one of the best in the league in the first half of the season so who knows?

The contract situation is a strange one, with many players’ deals up at the end of June. Lyle Taylor of Charlton Athletic has chosen not to take part in the remaining matches and to see his contract out. He’s had a late rise up the leagues in his career and his next move is set to be a big one and likely his most lucrative yet.

Galatasaray are among the clubs linked with him, and you can completely understand his point of view that he doesn’t want to risk getting an injury and potentially scupper that life-changing move. Nevertheless, he is still contracted to the club so I don’t think it’s very fair to Charlton. It’s not fair to his teammates as well who are battling against relegation.

If The Addicks do indeed go down, many of them will see a big reduction in their wages. I doubt he would be doing this for the last few games if there hadn’t been a delay to the season, but he could still have picked up a long term injury in that time anyway.

Paul Gallagher and Tom Clarke are the two main players in our squad who are about to see their current contracts come to an end. Personally I expect Gally to be given a one-year-extension regardless of what league we end up playing in next season. He’s still incredibly valuable to us, and many would expect him to move into a coaching role sooner rather than later, having already been in charge of one of the U16s this season.

In fact, yesterday was 5 years to the day that he signed permanently for us after 3 loan spells. He’s had a pretty good record for us in the Championship, I’d say.

Tom Clarke, as sad as it is to say, his time with North End is probably up. Of course, he has given us many great memories, none more so than that late winner against Blackpool in one of his first games for the club.

He’s been a great captain too but has suffered from injuries of late. With the centre of defence being one of our strongest areas on the pitch I don’t think it would make sense to offer him another deal but I suppose his leadership and presence around the club could be worth something to the staff so who knows?

The time off has allowed those with injuries to get closer to full fitness. I think there could be a slight chance that Louis Moult may have some part to play in the run-in, whereas he would most certainly have missed it in normal circumstances. Tom Bayliss is another who had an injury set back a few months ago but has returned to training.

With up to 5 substitutes now being allowed in a game, it could see a few more chances for some of our fringe players. We may see more game time for Ryan Ledson, Jordan Storey, and David Nugent to name a few.

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Ethan Walker has also featured in a few of our practice games of late and is likely to see himself named on the bench for a few of the remaining matches at least. It could be a great chance for the 17-year-old after a brief loan spell at Altrincham earlier in the season.

The Championship table is ridiculously close. After our last game against QPR in March we were clinging on to 6th place looking over our shoulder rather than looking up the table. There are plenty of teams within reach of us and it’s very hard to predict how things are going to pan out.

I believe Alex Neil will have a good plan in place, and training will have gone well over the last few weeks. Squad depth will have a big say on results between now and the end of the season, however, and whilst that is an area we are stronger in compared to previous seasons, I still think other squads in the league will benefit from this more than ourselves.

Either way, it’s going to be a weird end to the season, but let’s hope the lads give us something to shout about in the coming weeks. You can listen to what Mark Lawrenson had to say about the run-in on the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast below.