Well, where do we start on Saturday’s performance? Terrible? To be expected? Déjà vu? That’s exactly the sort of game I was expecting to be honest and it’s pretty much exactly what the lads said would happen on the podcast last week, too. Scrappy, playing into Cardiff’s hands and ultimately lacking in quality and creativity from ourselves.
We’ve finally slipped out of the top 6 after clinging on for so long, and personally I don’t see us getting back in there.
Of course, it is still very close, but we’ve got some tough games to come and I just don’t see much from this side at the moment that gives me hope that we can turn this abysmal run of form around. Here are five things we learned from the game:
16 Home Games With No Clean Sheet
There’s an awful lot of statistics that are being thrown about at the moment which make it incredibly surprising how we are actually still in the position we are. I suppose it underlines exactly how strong our start to the season was, but also it’s amazing how other teams haven’t been unable to overtake us and leave us trailing behind.
You’d consider our defence to be fairly strong particularly with Ben Davies and Patrick Bauer at the heart of it. However, at Deepdale, you have to go back to the 14th of September for the last time we managed a clean sheet at home. Simply not good enough.
So many of those goals we’ve conceded have been sloppy as well, I can’t remember too many well-worked goals, or wonder strikes coming against us this season. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can get into the play-offs with that sort of record.
5 Losses from 8 at Deepdale
Continuing on the thread of our home form, our so-called good home record is unravelling in front of our eyes.
From our first 9 home games, we won 7 and drew 2. However, our last 8 games at home have seen us lose 5 times. We haven’t really come up against any big hitters in that time either. The defeats have come against Middlesbrough, Reading, Millwall, QPR and Cardiff City. I think we should have had at least 9 points from those fixtures at home, but we’ve had none.
Our wins in that time have come against Hull City and Charlton Athletic who are both struggling. We have to be honest here, our form is alarmingly bad at the moment and has been for a while. What has gone so badly wrong in the second half of this season?
Stockley Up Front Was a Bad Call From Neil
Cardiff are a physical side so I can understand why Neil might have wanted a physical presence to battle against them with. However, Sean Morrison is one of the best centre-backs in the league and never seems to lose an aerial battle. He won 10 aerial battles on Saturday and made 9 clearances in the match. He’s solid and was huge for them in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Jayden Stockley didn’t stand much chance against a top Championship defender, it wasn’t the right plan, and we didn’t cause them any problems. The lack of creativity is so worrying. On so many occasions Scott Sinclair would just run into trouble, but we didn’t have enough willing runners off the ball. The options were so limited, and even when Paul Gallagher came on we struggled to stretch Cardiff.
Stockley was eventually replaced by David Nugent who had one of our best chances of the game and you would back him to score it based on the goal-scoring career he has had and being the top scorer in Championship history, but he managed to put it wide of the goal. We are not clinical enough and there seems to be no plan B.
A major criticism of Neil recently is with his substitutions. He seems to wait too long before rolling the dice. The game was at a standstill yesterday, and it looked to be heading to a 0-0 draw. Instead of trying something new, and trying to affect the game ourselves, we just waited. Neil Harris brought on Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Robert Glatzel, and you could just tell they were going to have a say in the outcome of the game.
As I said in my ‘5 Things’ piece last week, other teams can bring on players who are going to have a big impact and cause problems. Mendez Laing did straight away with our defence unable to deal with his pace and physicality. Ben Davies and Patrick Bauer were nowhere to be seen for his goal, Bauer literally ran away from him. Neil only responded once we went a goal down and chose to bring Seani Maguire on for Tom Barkhuizen. To be fair to him, he had a near enough immediate impact and helped set up a goal, but we should have been making that change earlier and not when we were chasing the game.
As I said in my piece on our striker problem, Seani is best making an impact off the bench and this proved my point as to the impact he can have when making a cameo appearance. After this, we brought Gally on for Fisher which was an interesting move, but then we waited until Cardiff scored again before making our last 3 subs in the 84th minute. One final, desperate attempt from Neil, and 2 of those subs David Nugent and Josh Harrop both missed sitters. The subs were late, but in truth, I don’t have much confidence that the players coming on will impact a game when they come on anyway.
The End of an Era?
This season looks to be taking a similar shape to the last campaign. Plenty of hope and promise, which ultimately ends in disappointment, and frustration. A feeling North End fans have become all too accustomed with over the years.
We felt this year may be different, and it was a season that we had to capitalise on. At the start of the season, Oli even wrote a piece detailing how this season was the chance of a lifetime for Preston North End. The rest of the league isn’t as strong as in previous years, but the main reason we had to make something happen this year is due to our contract situation.
Three of our key players in Ben Pearson, Ben Davies and Alan Browne all have just a year left on their contracts, not including 14 other players who are also out of contract. If we don’t make the playoffs this season, I expect at least two of them to leave in the next transfer window. Pearson showed again on Saturday why he is one of the best midfielders in this league. He will surely have a lot of interest in the summer. These times have been difficult financially for a lot of clubs, and we won’t be able to play hardball too much with any incoming offers for those three in the summer.
We all knew we had to make the most of this squad this year. It’s been over 10 years since we had a squad capable of challenging. We do have some very good players, but also plenty lacking quality that don’t give us enough on a regular basis. Brad Potts, Billy Bodin, David Nugent are just three players who fall into that category. This highlights a lot of our recruitment has been poor. Potts was brought in for a lot of money, Nugent is on a two-year-deal and I would imagine is one of our higher earners. We received around £8 million for Callum Robinson in the summer, plus recent fees for Greg Cunningham and Jordan Hugill. We haven’t invested it well at all.
We reportedly spent around £1.2m on Tom Bayliss from Coventry City last summer and he hasn’t played a single minute in the league this season. Not one.
Yes, he’s only 21 and may come good in the future, but in no way are we a club in a position to spend that sort of money on a player and not use them. It doesn’t seem to be any fault of his own, the games he has played in the cup he has shown promise. The more time passes, the more it seems a ludicrous decision, and especially when you consider the centre of midfield to be one of our strongest areas anyway.
We’re already losing Tom Clarke this summer. Pearson, Davies and Browne could be big losses as well if any of them do leave. Not just in terms of their ability but also a leadership point of view, too. We may have a big rebuilding job on our hands for next season, and I’m not too hopeful based on recent recruitment that it would go well.