Jake recently sat down with former North End striker and current Sky Sports pundit Neil Mellor to discuss all things Preston North End. In this profile, we’ll look back at Mells’s time at the club.
Neil signed for North End in the summer of 2006 from Liverpool, a year after being part of the Reds squad that famously won the Champions League. He had to wait a number of months before making his PNE debut, though, after a knee injury suffered in pre-season.
He scored once in his debut season in an eventual 3-1 win over Southampton in March, before falling slightly out of favour under Paul Simpson.
When Simpson was sacked in November 2007, Mellor was catapulted into the first team under Alan Irvine and quickly began to endear himself to the North End faithful. Although he spent a short spell out of the first team at the beginning of the 2008/09 season, he scored the second goal in a 3-1 away win at Blackpool in November with Chris Brown at the double to secure all 3 points for the Lilywhites.
That goal came just weeks after Mellor had signed a new deal with the Lilywhites which kept him tied to the club until 2012. From then on, he formed a strong partnership with Jon Parkin for the remainder of the campaign, the pair scoring 20 goals combined as Irvine’s men secured a play-off place on the last day.
North End, of course, failed to progress past the play-off semi-finals that season after a 2-1 aggregate defeat to a Sheffield United side that featured Kyle Naughton and future England star and Premier League winner, Kyle Walker.
But Mellor carried on his good form into the 2009/10 season and raced out of the blocks with 5 goals in North End’s opening eight games. Despite being just outside the play-off positions, Irvine was sacked in December 2009 and replaced by Ferguson, who initially continued to pick Mellor for the first team.
The Liverpudlian ended the season with 11 goals in all competitions but was placed on the transfer list at the end of that season.
A season-long loan spell at League One Sheffield Wednesday beckoned for the Sheffield-born Mellor. Wednesday were managed by the former North End manager, Alan Irvine and Mellor reminded everyone of his talents with 20 goals in all competitions for the Owls that season.
A popular figure amongst the North End fans, Mellor was welcomed back to Deepdale with open arms the following season, with the club again under new management.
Ferguson was sacked after a run of poor results sent PNE spiralling towards relegation, and he was replaced by former Hull boss Phil Brown. Unfortunately, Brown could not keep North End from falling to the third tier for the first time since 2000, but he did give Mellor a prominent role in the first team alongside Chris Brown and young forward Jamie Proctor.
He was not to be reunited with Parkin upon his return to the club though, the “Beast” having signed for Cardiff City at the beginning of 2011.
Brown’s side had a formidable start to their first season back in the third tier and after nine games they sat 2nd in the table on 22 points. They then lost eight out of their next nine games, however, a 22nd-minute winner from Mellor meant that run was ended with a 1-0 away win at Hartlepool.
Going into December, Neil was on course for his best scoring season for North End, having netted 8 goals already. 6 of those came through braces, the most memorable of those being a double strike at Wycombe as PNE came from 3-2 down after 27 minutes to win 4-3 at Adams Park.
But then Mellor suffered a serious knee injury on 16 December against Milton Keynes, and although the injury was only scheduled to take three months to heal, it did eventually lead to the end of his playing career, something he discusses briefly on the podcast with Jake.
The then-29 year old retired in the summer of 2012, bringing to a close a brilliant career with Preston North End Football Club.
Mellor may not have been known for his genuine outright pace, but his hold up play and strength off the ball was superb and he netted a variety of goals.
Had injury not prematurely ended his career, Mellor surely would have gone on to play many more times in a North End shirt. He perhaps would have spearheaded the club’s charge back up to the Championship, even taking into consideration the chaos that occurred the summer he retired in terms of player ins and outs.
Since retirement, Mellor has taken up a punditry role with Sky and when he is not on Soccer Saturday duties he can be seen working on North End’s televised games, as well as writing columns for the Lancashire Post.
He has visited Deepdale seven times this season and continues to be a fan favourite.
When you see that Mellor thrived under Alan Irvine – a manager famed for his relentless pursuit of ensuring his players worked as hard as they could – it sums up his qualities as a player. Neil mentions on the podcast his admiration for the Scot and how his game developed under his tutelage.
He was a star man during the Irvine era and had that second leg at Bramall Lane gone differently in that play-off season, Mellor could well have been plying his trade in the Premier League for the first time since his Liverpool days.
Fate meant that Mells never reached that ambition, but he achieved plenty otherwise in a PNE career that spanned six seasons, plenty of goals in front of the Town End, and of course that strike at Bloomfield Road.
You can listen to Episode #3 of From the Meets… Neil Mellow just by hitting the play button on the player below. We also recently wrote a piece for our friends over at playmaker looking at our start to the season, you can give that a read here – Preston are Prospering.