Well this is certainly not going to be an enjoyable one to write. Blackburn Rovers eased to a 3-0 win at Deepdale on Tuesday night for their first win against us in 5 years.
7 games had passed in that time, with North End enjoying some memorable wins both at home and at Ewood Park. But on Tuesday night, Blackburn were the deserved winner.
Here are five things we learned from the Blackburn game:
Injuries Are Mounting Up
We went into the game against Rovers without 8 senior players. The absence of Ben Davies and Ben Pearson has cost us numerous points in the last couple of months.
I also think Paul Gallagher was a big miss on Tuesday, his leadership was necessary for a derby match, especially when we went down to 10 men. We were already down to the bare bones when it comes to full-backs for the game against Rovers, and now Joe Rafferty will be serving a ban for his red card, we’re likely to be facing Watford on Saturday with no senior full-backs available.
I would imagine it will be a back three again. However, it could be time for the youth to be given a chance?
No Leadership with 10 Men
Rovers dominated the first half and had numerous chances to take the lead. Adam Armstrong, Ben Brereton, and Sam Gallagher caused our defence countless problems.
The multi-million pound forward line was a level above our attacking options and in all honesty, we would have been lucky to go into the break at 0-0.
Joe Rafferty showed us that he isn’t good enough for this level. When in a one-on-one situation he simply can’t cope.
Compare him to one of our best left-backs in recent times in Greg Cunningham and they are worlds apart. Rafferty isn’t fast enough and it was all too easy for Gallagher to use his experience to get in front of him and draw the foul. Some might think the red card was harsh given the recent introduction of the double jeopardy rule, but in my eyes, that sort of challenge will always result in a red card.
Going into the second half, we needed the players to step up and give everything. It’s a derby game, arguably our biggest game of the season, and we had to dig in. We’ve done it before, in this very fixture in fact. Last season we put in a hopeless first half performance and then turned it around to win 3-2.
Despite a strong 5 minutes in the second half, Rovers stamped their authority on the game, scoring the second goal with ease. Heads dropped, confidence was low and there were no leaders. Alan Browne didn’t shine as the captain of the team. It was just a case of seeing out the game and keeping the scoreline as low as possible. Incredibly tough viewing.
Fans Would Have Made a Difference
The atmosphere at recent games with Rovers at this level has been great since our return to the Championship in 2015. A packed-out Deepdale viewing an intense rivalry would have added a lot to the game, and likewise, when we take over 7,000 fans to Ewood Park, it’s what football is all about.
We haven’t lost at Ewood Park in nearly 20 years, but Rovers’ first win at Deepdale since 2015 is one they will savour. With Blackburn clearly on top throughout the match, I believe the North End fans would have been very vocal in their encouragement for the lads, and wouldn’t have stood for the limp way in which we succumbed to defeat.
There would have been a fierce response from the fans as the players walked down the tunnel at the final whistle. Seeing your side lose 3-0 at home to your Lancashire rivals is unacceptable.
Furthermore, if we had have been able to attend the games this season, watching North End lose 6 out of their first 7 home games scoring just 2 goals wouldn’t have made for pleasant visits to Deepdale. Perhaps we can count ourselves lucky the choice has been taken out of our hands.
Our Youth Policy Should Be Questioned
It was always going to happen. As soon as Tyrhys Dolan came on as a substitute on Tuesday night, you could almost guarantee that he would score. He looked a threat on the left-hand side causing Darnell Fisher problems in his brief cameo and he took his chance when the ball was played across goal by Brereton to apply the finish with ease.
Rovers fans have taken great delight in the impact Dolan has already had since moving across Lancashire in the summer. He was a key part of our youth team in the last couple of years but we chose not to give him a contract. Indeed we didn’t give any professional contracts this summer which is surprising given the current climate. Perhaps it was the perfect opportunity to back the youth.
2 years ago saw us hand professional debuts to both Ethan Walker and Adam O’Reilly against Aston Villa when we were again struggling with injuries. Neither have played in the league for us since, and their progression has stuttered. Loan spells haven’t proved to be too effective, and Jack Baxter is another one who has been on the periphery for some time but hasn’t broken through yet.
Speaking to LancsLive, Dolan himself even said that even if he was offered a contract at Deepdale he would probably have turned it down as the chances are few and far between at this club for young players.
“We agreed that if I did get offered something (at PNE) and another club also came in, we would probably have gone with the other club – only because with the likes of Connor Simpson, Adam O’Reilly and Jack Baxter, I never actually saw anyone get a real chance to break through during my time at Preston”
Going forward that’s not great for us if we are looking to hold on to any promising youth players. However, with the number of first-team players currently missing for us, and the increase to 9 substitutes on the bench it did see Jacob Holland-Wilkinson and Lewis Coulton join the first-team squad.
Is Mid-Table the Best We Can Hope For?
In our five seasons back at this level, we have finished 11th, 11th, 7th, 14th and 9th, flirting with the play-offs in all of those seasons but ultimately falling short.
Alex Neil has always said that the play-offs should be the aim for this club. Indeed the majority of the clubs in the Championship would fancy their chances at an outside shot of the top six. However, with clubs continuing to spend way more than we are able to, it is tough for us to compete.
With the ‘big 5’ still yet to sign any contract extensions, it’s a very tricky time for us as a football club. Who knows whether these players will be off in January. With our inconsistent form this season, I can’t imagine they will be thinking it’s worth sticking around to see if we can mount a promotion challenge.
The season is not even a third of the way through and anything can happen in this league, but having lost more than half of our games so far, and with two very tough fixtures coming up against Watford and Bournemouth, it’s tough to see us shooting up the table any time soon. Only two teams have lost more than us, and only two have conceded more than us.
When we finished 7th in 2018 we only lost 11 games in the whole season. We could well match that total by the end of the calendar year. Unfortunately, it looks like we may have to settle for a season of mid-table mediocrity and there could be a serious rebuilding process in the summer and not just the playing staff but possibly the management team as well.
If you haven’t yet listened to another great episode of the From the Finney podcast, make sure you listen to episode 17. It’s available to stream on the majority of streaming platforms and it’s well worth a listen with some very valid points brought up.