As every Preston fan will be aware, the 2018/19 season was effectively ruined by the constant injuries to a lot of key players within the squad at various points in the campaign. It certainly hindered the squad and Alex Neil often found that he had one hand tied behind his back.
However, I believe this year, providing we don’t get near the injury list we built up last term, a number of players could become real key assets to the club who could benefit us in making a push for the play-offs.
Potts is a player whom it could be argued went ‘under the radar’ last season, especially during the 12-game unbeaten run in early January. He settled straight into the side, frequently starting the game out on the left or the right wing. Pottsy chipped in with a couple of goals during the run and he hit strikes against QPR away and Stoke away, with the latter giving the travelling fans a bit of relief after soaking up pressure for so long.
Potts’ season, unfortunately, was cut short after the reoccurrence of a knee injury. In my opinion North End just didn’t have enough depth in their squad to cope towards the business end of last season with even Paul Gallagher admitting he felt the side “ran out of steam towards the end”, and so a player like Potts was dearly missed during the run-in and could’ve played a pivotal role in guiding North End toward those desired play-off spots.
So, looking ahead to next term, I feel that Gallagher is someone heading towards the end of his career and may not be able to last as long in games as he has done previously, possibly featuring off the bench more often. This opens up the door for Brad to really come into his own next season and develop his game into being someone that we eventually come to rely on.
Potts can definitely get the assists which we saw in his time with Barnsley. He also got 5 assists last season before making his move to Lancashire so I could see him playing a big role in the push for promotion next season and being someone who could take the game by the scruff of the neck and control a game in North End’s favour.
A signing that was met with a lot of expectation at Deepdale after his goal in his first and last appearance for Manchester United on the last day of the 2016/17 season against Crystal Palace. Since coming to Lancashire, Josh Harrop hasn’t really been able to fulfil his potential due to not having a consistent run in the team and of course, the injury he picked up against West Brom that saw him sidelined for the rest of the season.
In saying that, Harrop did have a bit of a run in the team during the early stages of the 2017/18 season. A game which comes to mind is the 3-0 victory over Cardiff who were eventually promoted at the end of that 2017/18 season. Harrop kicked off the scoring with a low free-kick which completely bewildered goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and nestled in the far corner.
Harrop also scored a free-kick against Sunderland that season despite a flick off James Vaughan taking the ball in. Finally, in the same season, Harrop scored a brace in the FA Cup demolition of Wycombe Wanderers which finished 5-1. He scored a wonderful free-kick (again) and then finished off with clinical header from an inch-perfect Greg Cunningham cross.
In terms of the 2018/19 campaign which, for Josh, was finished by late September due to an ACL injury, he featured in 8 out of the first 10 games where North end only achieved 1 win in that run. The midfielder started 4 out of the 8 appearances with one of his appearances off the bench coming against West Brom when he was on the field for just 2 minutes before being forced off after picking up the aforementioned ACL injury.
During his 8 appearances, he managed 1 assist which was on the opening day of the season, with a free-kick finding Alan Browne who looped a header back over the QPR ‘keeper which secured all 3 points for North End. I still believe there is a lot more to come from the 23 year old whether that be playing in a central role or as a wide player cutting in from the left.
One thing’s for certain though, his free kicks could prove important to us as we may start to see less of Paul Gallagher as the season goes on. Andrew Hughes and Josh Harrop may look to share the role who have both proved themselves capable of scoring from a set-piece situation.
The former Everton man was certainly someone who North End had their eye on for a while after attempting to sign him in the January transfer window of the 17/18 season but only managing to secure his signature in the summer at the end of the campaign. He was certainly one of the key figures in Oxford’s team in his time there and was thought of as having a lot of potential when he made the move back up north.
In my opinion, Ledson was brought in for back up to Ben Pearson who we all know likes a yellow card. Ryan has certainly matched the characteristics Ben Pearson has shown over the past few years with having a ‘ball-winning’ type role in the side. Many fans believed we hadn’t found a much better-disciplined player than Pearson when in the 2nd round of the Carabao Cup against Leeds, Ledson was sent off for a high, two-footed tackle. But he did seem to learn from that and when he did get game time seemed to be quite sensible apart from what can only be described as a karate kick in the local derby at Wigan at the end of the season.
Ledson was 2nd in the top 10 players for defensive actions in their own 3rd in the championship with an average of 11.5 actions per game with Pearson being 10th on 9.51 actions. Personally, I believe if Ledson was able to get some more game time which would provide the experience he needs, I think he would be more than strong enough to replace Pearson if a club was to come in with an offer too good to refuse for our number 4. If Pearson does to improve his disciplinary record he is bound to receive interest from Premier League clubs as he is frequently held in high regard and commonly described by Alex Neil as ‘the best number 6 In the league’.
Ledson certainly fits into Neil’s style of play and that’s clear to see on the pitch when he is constantly hurrying and hassling any players who want time on the ball anywhere on the pitch. We know Ledson is more than capable of stepping up when needed which, in my opinion, he has shown in the limited game time he has had at the club so far. So in my opinion, this coming season when we’re comfortably leading, which I admit doesn’t happen often because North End never like to do things the easy way, I think Ledson should get more game time off the bench in order to try and improve and develop more and to provide Ben Pearson with a bit more competition.
A player who, like Josh Harrop, picked up a severe injury which resulted in him not making a single appearance throughout last season, Billy Bodin is one that many fans are feeling positive about. The winger, who signed from Bristol Rovers on the 3rd of January 2018, made his debut in the 5-1 FA Cup win over Wycombe Wanderers just 3 days later, had impressed early on in his time with the club. After that appearance against Wycombe, Bodin went on to make 19 appearances in the second half of that campaign scoring once and getting 4 assists.
Bodin also broke onto the international scene whilst playing in Lancashire after representing Wales at under 17, 19, and 21 levels, he made his debut for the Wales national team in a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay. In pre-season of the 18/19 season, Bodin picked up an ACL injury in training on the eve of the season which ruled him out for the whole of the upcoming campaign.
I think it’s fair to say Bodin has hit the ground running in his time at the club so far, despite it being a bit stop-start. Although it is too early to be getting ahead of ourselves due to the quality of opposition faced so far in pre-season this time around, Billy has definitely shown some positive signs. He was probably the liveliest player out of the two elevens which faced Bamber Bridge with him and Josh Ginelly cutting in on the right and left sides respectively.
Then against Cork, he looked fresh as he came close to scoring a number of times with one attempt firing back off the post. Against AFC Fylde, he picked up his first goal of pre-season after toying with the Fylde defender and lashing a right-footed strike into the far left-hand corner. Then again, against Southampton, which all in all from a team point of view was a poor performance, Billy Bodin stood-out, scoring a great goal after some close control and dibbling his way past 3 players and he capped it off with a powerful, left-footed strike into the left corner.
He has shown some great touches so far in his time here, including being able to cross and shoot comfortably with both feet, and he is certainly not afraid to show his pace, skill and his ability to beat a player. So with the recent sale of Callum Robinson I can see Bodin truly stamping down his place in the starting eleven even if north end do manage to bring in another winger as we have seen Brandon Barker frequently linked with north end over the past few days.
The final player I believe who could surprise us this season is the first signing that North End made this summer, German centre back, Patrick Bauer. He signed on a free contract from Charlton Athletic after his contract expired at the end of the 2018/19 campaign. It’s rumoured that he also turned down an offer from Lancashire rivals Blackburn to move to Preston, which certainly put him in a good light in the North End faithful’s eyes.
Patrick Bauer is just 26 but has a host of experience having played football in the top divisions of both Germany and Portugal, as well as representing Germany at under 17, 18 and 20s. He has made 9 appearances for the Germans in total scoring two goals. The 6ft 4″ defender finally settled at Charlton and went on to make 124 appearances but with continued trouble surrounding Charlton’s owners, his contract ran down, much to the disappointment of the Charlton fans to whom he seemed a fan favourite in the capital; especially when he scored the winning goal with what was the final kick of the game at Wembley in the play-off final against Sunderland which saw Charlton promoted.
He has looked solid at the back so far in pre-season, not featuring in North End’s only defeat to date in the game against Southampton. He has, however, gotten himself off the mark for North End, grabbing his first goal against Accrington Stanley after firing in a header from a Paul Gallagher cross.
📽️ @patrick5bauer got off the mark in pre-season yesterday as he headed home the opening goal in last night’s draw with Accrington Stanley! 🇩🇪
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) July 24, 2019
Bauer and Davies do look comfortable and although I’m a massive fan of Jordan Storey, I do think adding a bit of experience to the backline could prove pivotal and that’s what Bauer brings to the table. He is taller than Storey and we have seen from last season how we seem to struggle to defend set-pieces so a bit of height is just what’s needed at the moment, in both boxes.
This is why I believe Bauer could surprise a few fans and have a major part to play in this coming season.
I think the squad has a decent amount of depth and with the addition of maybe 2 or 3 quality signings, ready to slot straight into the starting XI, I believe we have a serious and realistic play-off push on our hands. With the players I have mentioned hopefully performing to their full potential during the forthcoming campaign, I believe this might well be one of the strongest Preston sides we have seen in years and with a manager like Alex Neil in charge, there’s hope for a bright future for Preston fans, in my opinion.