Another incredibly disappointing, but predictably abject display from North End on Wednesday evening which all but ended our season. The lads were joined by Neil Mellor on a midweek, post-game podcast to discuss the game and you can listen to that below.
However, as these midweek pods will be a regular thing between now and the end of the season, there will no longer be any player ratings pieces during the week. I’ll still be writing these, though.
It’s safe to say it was an interesting lineup from Alex Neil for the game against Derby County which was always going to make things tough. They arrived at Deepdale as one of the most in-form teams in the league, but Neil’s starting eleven had nothing to offer.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
Are We Lacking Fight at This Stage?
Heading into these two crucial home games against Cardiff and Derby, it was all in our hands, having been in the top 6 for the majority of the season. It’s a situation we would definitely have taken at this stage had we been offered it at the start of the season. But as is often the case with us especially since returning to the Championship in 2015 we just seem to crumble at this point.
The game on Wednesday evening was hard to watch. We lacked passion, fight and desire. Of course, it’s completely different when the fans aren’t there and I do think we would have made a difference if we were all there urging them on in the second half. However, Derby showed the fight of a team chasing down the pack to sneak into the top 6. We didn’t.
Of course, the players want to make it to the Premier League but it looks as if a couple of defeats or even when we just go a goal down completely knocks the confidence out of them. The game was over after Wayne Rooney’s goal, as you just couldn’t see us getting back into it. No drive or urgency to get back into the game and it just slowly petered out.
Should Neil be doing more in the dressing room or on the touchline to push them on? Possibly. Surely though, the players themselves should be giving everything and leaving it all out on the pitch. I’m not sure if they are.
Sinclair is Not the Answer Right Now
I’ve covered Scotty Sinclair a few times since his arrival in January. I’ll admit that my thoughts on him have wavered quite a bit. I’m all for giving him a bit of time to get up and running after limited playing action at Celtic this season but he isn’t showing any signs of improvement. He’s scored two good goals for us but has he done much else?
He very rarely gets involved in the game. If he is on the ball he usually runs into danger, and I know a lot of fans have commented to suggest he doesn’t look too bothered. Of course, he has already played in the Premier League and in Europe, so I think his drive to get to the top flight won’t quite be the same as the majority of our squad. I’m desperate for him to do well for us, but I don’t think it’s going to be in these remaining six games.
Because of all this, I think it’s time for him to sit on the subs bench for me. Billy Bodin deserves a chance in his place, or Josh Harrop depending on how we line up.
Neil Slow With Subs AGAIN
The first 45 minutes was appalling and we showed absolutely nothing to suggest we would get back in the game with those players selected.
For me, I would have made three substitutes at half time bringing on Bodin, Harrop and Barkhuizen for some creativity and flair. When the latter two did eventually come on in the 73rd minute, we showed a bit of a spark and started spreading the Derby defence. In these games when you have 5 substitutes to use out of a possible 9 when nothing is going for you in the first half, why wouldn’t you try and switch it up at half time?
Alex Neil waits too long before rolling the dice. I also think he respects the opposition too much and just focuses on their strengths rather than focusing on what we can do well. He never used to do that at the start of his reign.
If you look back to our first few matches under him, we would press very high up the pitch and take the game to the opposition. We don’t do that anymore, and just look completely void of ideas when we’re in possession.
Harrop Will Start on Saturday
In Neil’s post-match comments he alluded to the fact that Josh Harrop was very unfortunate to miss out on a starting place in the side. I think we can all agree on that, not just for Wednesday but on numerous occasions this season.
Harrop is a very talented player. He’s coming towards the end of his third season with us now, and I still think he’s yet to be given a proper chance by Neil. Of course, he missed the majority of his second season through injury, but he’s done well when given a chance this time around. He’s our third top scorer this season but hasn’t started more than four games in a row at any stage.
Harrop can play out wide or as a number 10. He makes things happen, he has shots on goal, he puts the ball in dangerous places. He has to be in the team on Saturday.
Derby Got Their 1st Away Clean Sheet of the Season
Again, Wednesday showed us that our striker options are pointless. David Nugent, Jayden Stockley and to a lesser extent Seani Maguire aren’t offering us enough.
As I said in my ‘How to Solve Preston’s Striker Problem‘ last week, it’s time we played without a striker. Let’s just get our most creative players on the pitch all at the same time. Unfortunately, our strikers don’t fall into that category.
Derby hadn’t managed a clean sheet away from home all season. The only team in the league with that record. In fact, the next lowest was three, with a few teams on that number. Step up, Preston North End. The Rams had conceded 38 goals in their previous 19 away games, the second-highest in the league. Yet the closest we came to scoring was through Declan Rudd in the last play of the game and even that was a half chance.
What has gone wrong? We were scoring for fun at the start of the season. Of course, a lot of those were via the penalties, but we were clinical in taking our chances. Now we don’t even create any chances.
Worrying times for a North End fan. If as expected this season fizzles out we could see a huge change in playing staff over the summer. With 17 players out of contract in 2021, many could be leaving and with our recent track record of recruitment it doesn’t bode well for our future.