Football finally returned for North End fans after a three-month absence and we were left with a familiar, frustrating feeling come to the end of the 90 minutes. It was good to have it back nevertheless, and after a small but expected delay for us watching on the iFollow service, we were able to see Alex Neil’s side pick up a point at Kenilworth Road against Luton Town.
Of course, it felt like 2 points dropped after conceding a late equaliser, coming via former Blackpool loanee Callum McManaman. Despite that, it’s a pleasure to be back writing these ‘5 things’ articles for you all. Here’s what we learned on Saturday:
We Struggle in the Last 15 Minutes
The game on Saturday was one we were in control of throughout. Of course, we only had a one-goal lead which came in the second half, but Luton never looked like troubling us, and I remained confident we would be able to see the game out.
However, when McManaman scored the equaliser (and it was a good strike to be fair to him), it didn’t surprise me and it was a sense of déjà vu after not being able to finish off the game ourselves.
The two late equalisers against Leeds United earlier in the season stand out as other occasions we’ve let a lead slip late on, but one of the podcast co-hosts, Jimmy pointed out on Twitter that our overall record with goals in the last 15 doesn’t make for good reading.
Last 15 minutes of games this season:
Forest (A) -2pts
Reading (A) -1pt
Leeds (H) -2pts
Rovers (H) +2pts
WBA (H) -1pt
Luton (H) +2pts
Leeds (A) -2pts
Millwall (H) -1pt
QPR (H) -1pt
Luton (A) -2pts
12pts dropped, 4pts gained.
— Jimmy (@baysidepne) June 20, 2020
Not Strong Enough Options on the Bench
A reason for the poor form in the last 15 minutes could be down to the fact that we don’t have enough strong options coming off the bench. Generally, I feel like we have a decent amount of depth in the squad and more so than in previous seasons.
However, looking at the bench for yesterday’s game, is there anyone on there that you feel really confident in making a difference when they come on?
Jayden Stockley has done so in the past, but he was only brought on in the dying embers on Saturday as a last throw of the dice after we conceded the goal. David Nugent; you can probably count on one hand the number of times he’s made an impact from the bench this season. Brad Potts and Billy Bodin have had largely forgettable seasons.
You could argue that Darnell Fisher aside, the first eleven on Saturday was our strongest possible line-up, and if we were to switch things around then a few of those starters I would class as big impact players from the bench, but in doing so you’re making the startling eleven weaker.
This will make a big difference come the end of the season, when other club’s make substitutions, as fans we think ‘oh he’s a good player, he could cause us problems’. Does anyone think that when we make our substitutions?
Another Goal for Sinclair is a Huge Positive
We were all over the moon when Scott Sinclair joined from Celtic in January, but as expected it has taken him a little time to get going given the lack of action he was getting up in Scotland.
As Tommy Spurr rightly said on the iFollow commentary, the 3-month break probably came at a bad time for Scott when he was in need of games thick and fast to get him back up to full fitness. However, he scored his 2nd goal for North End on Saturday and it was well taken. After being played in on the left by Tom Barkhuizen, Sinclair opened his body up and curled it into the far right corner.
In fairness, you would expect him to score from that position, but it was encouraging to see him get a goal on our first game back, as we need him to be a big player in this run in.
DJ Looked Sharp
Daniel Johnson has arguably been our player of the season and as with Sinclair, we need him to continue to be an important part in the team for the last few games.
What particularly impressed me about DJ on Saturday was his movement off the ball. With Sinclair and Barkhuizen causing problems with their pace it creates space in opposition defences. Johnson is great at running into those spaces, particularly usually finding room behind the full-back and sneaking into the box. The Jamaican is then good at picking someone out in the box, but we could do with being more potent in the area.
On that point, it’s now 17 games without a goal for Seani Maguire. I think he’s better out wide for us, but I wouldn’t put him ahead of Barky or Sinclair in those positions. At the end of the day, if we do miss out on the playoffs, it’s going to be down to the fact we haven’t had a goal-scoring striker.
The fact we’re in this position without one of our strikers having passed the 5 goal mark is incredible.
No Injuries or Fitness Concerns
Ending on a positive note, coming back after a three-month absence, fitness and proneness to injuries is a big concern. It looked like everyone came through unscathed.
Looking at some of the other games since the restart, such as Arsenal, for example, have already seen major blows to some of their key players after only playing 2 games since the resumption. There’s still a long way to go, but on average in the Bundesliga, clubs have been reporting at least one injury a game.
The players looked sharp and ready to go. Games will be coming thick and fast and it is important for us to have a full-strength squad available for the key games coming up.
Finally, if you haven’t listened to the episode of the From the Finney Podcast with football finance expert, Kieran Maguire, hit play below and give it a listen. The lads and Kieran discuss the financial fallout from COVID-19 and how North End will be affected.
Also, the latest episode of the pod with Mark Lawrenson is available to stream now. They looked ahead to the season restart and gave predictions about whether or not we would make the top 6.