The fans’ forum at Deepdale tonight was interesting to say the least. It certainly went off without a hitch unlike the last one but there were some key things to take from the evening and the main thing for most fans will have been the news regarding manager Alex Neil.

In the midst of all the speculation about the next West Brom manager, Alex Neil was asked if he could put the rumours to rest and “go nowhere near the midlands”. The gaffer’s response was very diplomatic and he certainly put the rumours to rest by saying he has no intention of leaving Preston saying: “Me and Peter (Ridsdale) are discussing everything every day and I’ve got no intention of going anywhere else, there’s been no discussions between me and anybody else but the problem you’ve always got is you can never really do anything about speculation.

“Like anything, and I’m not suggesting that I want to leave, because I don’t and Peter understands what we’re trying to do here but, it would be really naïve of me to say I’m never going to go anywhere, I want to stay here and then one of the biggest teams in the world comes and hands Peter a big cheque and he forces me out of the door.

“I can guarantee everyone here that there has been no discussions with any other club and my sole focus is on Preston North End, we’re making plans and preparations for next season and I’ve got no intentions of going anywhere. So, that’s what I can guarantee.

“I like to think I’m a man of my word and I would never commit to something that I’m not in control of and unfortunately that (the speculation) I’m not in control of. There’s nothing I can do about that but I’ve not put any fuel to the rumours as you know, I’ve dismissed everything and my sole focus is on Preston.”

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Peter Ridsdale followed this up to say it was “fantastic” that people were talking about our manager and players and that it’s a great sign of progress for the football club because, if we had a manager and players that nobody else wanted it means they’re not doing a very good job. He also added that he’s confident that the environment Alex Neil operates in at North End gives him as good an opportunity to succeed here versus anywhere else.

The Gaffer on Injuries

Alex Neil admitted that he tries not to give out much information, pointing to Dave Seddon (LEP Reporter) as evidence of not giving much away around injuries but continued to say that the reason he tends to keep information like that inside the club is in order to not give our opponents any kind of advantage ahead the games we have to play.

He did confirm that Tom Barkhuizen is out for the remainder of the season and also confirmed that left-back Andrew Hughes will also be out for the remainder of the season. Neil also said that given how important both of these two players have been for us this season, perhaps the fans now understood why things are sometimes kept in house.

Also, Alex said that there’s a variety of different reasons that we have the injuries we do. There’s match contact injuries that Andrew Hughes, Alan Browne, Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen have all gotten during a game and that’s to be expected considering football is a contact sport but he then went on to talk about the non-contact injuries that we have picked up this season. He mentioned Calum Woods’ history with hamstrings at the club before he moved on and also talked a bit about Seani Maguire.

He has an issue with his hamstrings and has pulled them about 4 or 5 times in the time he’s been playing but in particular that it was a ‘loading issue’. When he was recovering with North End but then went away with Ireland and they were giving him far too much to do which is why he broke down while he was away with Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane. There was talk of this at the time, that they were doing an awful lot with the players but to have it somewhat confirmed finally is a good thing. Mick McCarthy being in charge means that the Republic of Ireland now mimic our training regime for Maguire and he has no issues with the most recent international break being a prime example. He went away, played against Gibraltar and came back and played against Reading on Saturday with no issues.

The same goes for Callum Robinson. He went away with Ireland and got injured in the game immediately after he came back because he was played for too many minutes. Again, a ‘loading issue’. Admitting to a problem that we have had this season but is now fixed apparently, Neil said that the issue was around players who were coming back into the team after an absence due to not getting a starting spot in the XI.

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“The crisis that we had really was the fact that we don’t carry big numbers because we don’t have a reserve squad. The reason we don’t carry big numbers is that it allows us to put all our money into having key players fit for the first team. If you naturally carry too big a squad, you need to distribute that money which means you don’t have a better quality of player.

“That’s been an issue for us, but we’ve addressed that. What we’ve done is to play a bounce match every two weeks from Christmas onwards to the end of the season. We’ve also discussed that next year we may potentially go into the reserve league which we opted out of a couple of seasons ago which gives us 16 games over the course of the season for the lads that haven’t been playing to keep their match minutes up.

“Looking at the injuries in general, Tom Barkhuizen was an existing injury that was his knee, Brad Potts was an overuse injury, Tom Clarke was an impact injury at Millwall as well. We run heavy and hard most games and the stats we get from every game in terms of how hard we work in comparison to our opposition and I would say 9 times out of 10 we run harder than the opposition and that’s why we’re getting the success we’ve been getting and why our players are being coveted elsewhere. We have put measures in place to try and prevent the injuries but sometimes it’s a necessary evil in terms of the way we want to play and we just have to take the rough with the smooth.”

Ben Pearson’s Disciplinary Record

Asked about Ben Pearson’s disciplinary record, Alex Neil said, despite leaving himself open to “being shot at”, he does think Ben’s disciplinary record has improved and that he has matured. This he said is because he thinks Ben’s reputation precedes him and he’s picked up some bookings and red cards that perhaps other players wouldn’t have received. However, being in the referee’s ear doesn’t help him.

“Naturally, Ben has been fined on a few occasions while I’ve been here and it’s not something that I take lightly and it’s not something that he gets away with. He understands his responsibility to the team, the fans and the club and he cares deeply about it.

“Your perception of Ben Pearson is different to how Ben Pearson actually is because what you’ll see is a wee angry guy on the pitch with a mop of hair but he is actually a really nice lad and he cares passionately about the club and about his football. He’s a quality player so we do miss him when he’s not there and what I’ve tried to press upon him is his responsibility to his teammates, to the club and to the fans. He’s not just punishing himself but he’s punishing all of you and I think it’s starting to sink in.

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The Best of the Rest

The gaffer talked a bit about the way we go about signing players. He said character is crucial for us and that if someone is a bad lad but a good player, he wouldn’t sign him. He also spoke about how important Peter Ridsdale is in getting most of the players we have over the line and getting the best deals that we can for the club in terms of the players we can afford. Ridsdale also added that the owner Trevor Hemmings signs off on every player and every contract.

Regarding the training ground, there wasn’t much to report and it’s still not progressed further than when we last got an update at the last fans’ forum. The current planning consent for the training ground expires in February 2020 and that the club will be looking to preserving that and the work will continue.

As far as the apparent bad record after international breaks, the gaffer didn’t think there was much of a correlation. Speaking about the Reading game in particular, he thought we moved the ball better than Reading in the first half but were largely blunt and some significant errors cost us. He’s going to try and improve but there’s no one thing in particular that stands out.

The club are apparently open to ideas as far as improving the home support goes but they aren’t going to split the Kop at the moment as they can’t afford to lose out on the revenue generated from a full away end. We can’t fill the other stands at the moment so they don’t envisage splitting the Kop bringing more supporters in.

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Ridsdale also spoke about those who have been so outspoken about reduced ticket prices. He said: “I think it’s absolutely shocking that those who don’t come at all will only come if suddenly we start slashing the prices. Those same people will be here every week, the same as those who have supported us for the last 30 years if we’re in the Premier League next year, they’ll be the first in the queue for a ticket to come and watch us play.

In terms of the kit, we will be continuing with JustSport into the future and have committed to moving forward with them. John Kay’s answer to the Fan Zone work was that it was all started after getting planning permission but then the roof started to give way.

“Part way through the work, the roof started to give way and the project became, frankly, non-viable and not fixable in an easy way and therefore, at the moment, we aren’t progressing with the fan zone which is disappointing but, we did try.”

There was some talk on season ticket prices but that seemed to be a bit of a sticky topic. Apparently only 33% of our season ticket holders are full paying adults. The rest are all made up of the various price categories. The club, basically, are open to any ideas that fans may have regarding season ticket sales.

There was also some interesting points about football finance and the Sky TV games but we’ll cover this in another post at a later date. If you enjoyed this post, we’d appreciate if you could shre it across social media for us. Also, make sure you’re following us on Twitter and Facebook, too!