Connor Ripley: A Reliable Deputy
It is fair to say that when Connor Ripley arrived at Deepdale in January, many fans expected him to either be North End’s starting keeper as soon as he set foot in the ground, or if not be in a position to take the shirt for this season.
That hasn’t happened, mainly due to the excellent performances of Declan Rudd who has quite rightly made the goalkeeper spot his own.
Last night Ripley made some important saves and also looked much more assured in his 18-yard box. He looked solid on PNE debut last season but he is another player that looks to have improved significantly over the summer. He could do nothing about either of the two goals that Hull scored but made a crucial penalty save in the shootout which PNE won.
If he is required to make the step up this season at any point, based on last night’s evidence he will do a fine job.
Josh Harrop: In the Form of his Life
It’s been a horror 12 months for Josh Harrop in which he’s been recovering from the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered against West Brom last season.
And before last Wednesday’s game against Stoke, he had gone almost two years since scoring a league goal. But with the first month of this season not yet complete, the former Manchester United youngster already has three goals to his name in all competitions.
One of those came last night, Harrop’s run ensuring the Hull defender was drawn away from Barkhuizen’s drive on goal. Barky’s eventual shot was saved but Harrop was there to tap in the rebound. He has done exceptionally well to come back from such a serious injury & it is a huge credit to him that he seems to have come back an even better player than before he suffered that cruel blow.
I can’t remember seeing many more technically gifted players than Harrop in my time supporting PNE. His first touch, in particular, was almost faultless last night, and he has both the pace and skill to beat a defender as well.
Add his passing ability to that and you have a player that could be a key component of Alex Neil’s side this season once he’s gotten match sharp.
Jayden Stockley: A Dilemma
At last season’s fans forum in September, Alex Neil spoke at length about how important Jordan Hugill was to North End’s system, and how he wanted to bring in a similar replacement. That replacement came in the form of Jayden Stockley from Exeter, the club beating off a number of rivals to secure his signature.
He had a number of impressive games last season, in particular against Birmingham where he barely lost a header against Mark Roberts, one of the tallest centre-halves in the league.
Since then, he perhaps hasn’t started the number of games he would have liked. Stockley came on at half time last night and struggled to impose himself on the Hull defence, not the first time he’s failed to do so in a game this season.
Of course, he is a different style of forward to Barkhuizen, who Stockley replaced last night, and his introduction meant a slight change in PNE’s style. It didn’t work out for him last night, but Stockley’s physical attributes add a different element to PNE’s attack and there will be times this season when they will be called upon and no doubt used effectively.
Strength in Depth Proven Once Again
It may have been a tale of two halves for North End last night, but one look at the eleven players out on the pitch last night tells a story. From Alan Browne at right back to Ryan Ledson in midfield & Tom Barkhuizen upfront, almost everyone has made a strong improvement under Neil and his coaching staff.
Jordan Storey, for instance, looked solid on the ball when he first arrived but has since grown even more comfortable when using his feet. He found Harrop or Potts on the wing time and time again with long balls, and his defensive game has also stepped up a notch as well.
Potts may not be fully up to speed yet as we alluded to in our player ratings piece, but he constantly took up intelligent positions last night.
And barring a couple of late challenges – he was lucky to escape a card for his tackle on Dan Batty in the centre of the park – Ledson had a confident night in front of North End’s back four. He looks a more complete player than the one that started last season’s defeat to Wigan, where he was sent off.
The second half showed that the team that Neil put out still has small improvements to make, but overall the signs are very promising.
Bayliss: The Real Deal?
Since signing for North End for an undisclosed fee earlier this month, Tom Bayliss hasn’t kicked a ball in the league yet.
You can understand why, with Alex Neil presumably wanting to ease him into the action whilst assessing how he performs in these Carabao Cup games. Last night’s showing did the midfielder no harm at all.
On one occasion, Hull had Josh Magennis clean through on goal before a bursting run from Bayliss stopped him in his tracks. In the second half, he beat several players in a driving run forward before playing a pinpoint pass through to Brad Potts.
Bayliss is not the finished article yet, but you would not expect that from a player of just 20 years of age. He looks as if he has all the attributes to develop into a top-class midfielder though, and hopefully, we see plenty more of him this season.