Our third defeat in four games, but I think many of us had expected to be on the receiving end of this one with so many first-team players ruled out. On Saturday afternoon, Watford eased to a 4-1 victory and in truth could probably have scored more.
That’s now back to back defeats by 3 goals this week, although there was an improvement in the performance compared to the Rovers game in midweek. Here are five things we learned from the Watford game…
A Lack of Investment Makes This Inevitable
It seems that during this century the success of the club goes full circle. We bring young players into the club, develop them, have a bit of success, ultimately miss out on reaching the promised land of the Premier League, start to sell our top assets, and then fail to replace them.
The slump then starts and we go back to square one. It’s not hard to see which phase we are currently in. A few near misses on reaching the playoffs in the last few seasons with a good bunch of players have been the high points. Seeing players like Greg Cunningham, Callum Robinson, and Jordan Hugill leave without being adequately replaced is tough to take.
Whilst many good players from the last five years remain at the club their futures remain unclear and it’s abundantly clear, to me at least, just how much of an effect this is having on the rest of the squad.
We managed to keep a young manager at the club despite approaches from West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City. What tantalising promise did we dangle in front of him to persuade him to stay and sign a three year deal? One that hasn’t been delivered on I would say.
Just two permanent signings in the last 18 months and you have to feel sorry for Alex Neil as he clearly hasn’t been allowed to do what he would want to with this club.
The Perfect Time to Jump Ship?
With so many key players having only a few months left on their contracts (it might have been mentioned once or twice if you didn’t already know) you must wonder why they would actually want to commit their future to us.
With the club heading into a transition phase is there much of an incentive to stay? Perhaps a slight pay rise, maybe giving something back to the club that has propelled their career and 100% payment during the lockdown. Whether or not that would entice our better players to sign new contracts, only the lads themselves will know. Aside from that if they have interest from elsewhere then I can’t see them staying.
They are all at stages in their careers where they would want to take the step up to the next level and progress. It’s becoming more clear that that next step is unlikely to be with North End, unfortunately. So a move to a side around the top of the Championship, on more money definitely sounds more appealing. As much as you’d like to think loyalty is still present in football, it’s very rare.
After all, it’s a short career and you have to make the most of it
This is one I’ve seen being discussed on Twitter and PNE-Online. Alan Browne by all accounts, appears to be the club captain this season.
After the departure of Tom Clarke and with Paul Gallagher taking more of a back seat this season, the Irishman seemed like an obvious choice after spending close to 7 years with the club. However, he is one of the players with time running out on his contract. With a promotion push this season seeming like a long shot, wouldn’t it be better to have a captain that sees his long term future at the club?
Unfortunately, the other current contenders of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson, and Daniel Johnson all fall into the same category as Browne.
The candidates after that are rather slim. The only one who you feel has leadership qualities and would be a regular in the team is perhaps Ryan Ledson.
Whilst still young, he’s in his third season with us now and has taken his chance over the last six months. Let’s not forget, he captained Oxford United and also captained England U17s to European glory back in 2014.
He gets stuck in, has recently signed a new contract, and giving him the armband could urge him on even more. He would certainly get my vote.
Watford Showed How Tough This League Is
The Hornets managed to keep hold of a lot of quality players in the summer and will be expecting an instant return to the top flight. It’s obvious to see why when they lined up with a front three of Ismaila Sarr, Andre Gray, and Troy Deeney. However, Tom Barkhuizen did manage to nutmeg the £30 million Sarr on his way to scoring.
An imposing threat for any backline, nevermind a back three put together due to a lack of options because of injury and suspension. Even the substitutes of João Pedro and Stipe Perica are deadly at this level. Whilst we didn’t put in an embarrassing display the level of opposition was simply just too much for us.
It will be a similar standard on Tuesday night when we face Bournemouth. In truth, it shows we are quite some way away from the top teams.
The Championship was wide open last season in terms of the top six. But this year the relegated teams are strong and the likes of Bristol City, Swansea City and I have to admit, as much as it pains me, Blackburn Rovers all look strong. We haven’t strengthened and as a result, we are suffering.
Soft Goals Conceded Yet Again
We don’t help ourselves at times but it’s becoming quite a regular occurrence now that the defence seems to switch off.
The first goal Jordan Storey could have done better with having left Domingos Quina with an easy chance. The 2nd, well it looked like a dive to me but again Storey was the culprit and gave the referee a decision to make. The third goal was the worst from a defensive point of view. Whilst it was a well-worked one-two by Nathaniel Chalobah and Troy Deeney, the defence stood still allowing one time England cap Chalobah to score his first goal for 6 years.
We need to get stuck in more and stop ball watching. It’s basic stuff but it’s costing us a shed load of points. We have the quality in defence but unfortunately, they’ve been well below par so far this season. Whilst we’re the only team in the league to score in every away game this season it doesn’t help when we can’t keep a clean sheet.
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