With the transfer window now open, it goes without saying that Preston North End will be looking to strengthen their squad for the 2019/2020 season.
According to the Lancashire Evening Post, Alex Neil will be looking not so much for overhaul style signings, rather than a few choice additions to strengthen the depth of the squad and to add experience in a few positions. These are positions that have been identified as priorities by North End’s coaching staff and fanbase alike.
A goalkeeper, a centre-half, a technical central midfielder and a winger are signings I think all can agree would be of benefit to the balance and depth of the squad going into next season.
Although this position has been scrutinised more thoroughly in a recent piece by Jake, here I will suggest and comment on a couple of the particular options mentioned that stand out to me.
The 25-year-old former Barnsley stopper seems to fit the bill for a potential permanent signing to rectify PNE’s issues between the sticks of late. Having recently become Wales’ no.2, Davies has been reported to be being tracked by many Championship sides. A move to play regular football in the Championship would surely appeal to a ‘keeper of his age looking to make the next step in his career.
After being named in the PFA League One Team of the Season last campaign, Davies refused a new contract with The Tykes and is available on a free transfer. North End would have to move quickly though, with Stoke City reportedly ready to pounce on the talented keeper.
Considering North End’s recent links with Manchester City, given the loan spells of Lukas Nmecha and Brandon Barker, it seems a genuine possibility that we might be able to land the Premier League champions’ young Kosovan goalkeeper on a temporary basis this summer.
Rumours of our interest in his services have been beginning to circulate over the last few weeks. Standing at 6’6″, the 20-year-old is an immense figure between the sticks and City could well be looking to get him his first season of regular football next campaign, following just a handful of appearances last season.
Following the unfortunate decline in the suitability of Paul Huntington to Championship football and the frequent need for the utilisation of Tom Clarke at right-back, North End’s need for depth and experience at centre-half has grown of late.
Starting his career at Cork in his native Ireland, Kevin Long soon got a move across the Irish Sea to Burnley in 2010, where he has been on the books ever since. He has found first-team opportunities at Turf Moor few and far between, however, spending a considerable amount of time out on loan around the football league.
At age 28, Long could well be looking to resettle somewhere where he can compete for regular first team football.
Another name floated by some fans is that of Semi Ajayi, the powerful centre-half currently turning out for recently relegated Rotherham. 25-year-old Ajayi is known for his towering 6’4″ frame and his tendency to chip in with numerous goals. He was actually the second highest scoring centre-back in the Championship last season behind Charlie Mulgrew with 7 goals. This would certainly be a welcome addition to North End’s defensive options should the Nigerian international be Deepdale-bound.
One of the crop of highly praised Bristol Rovers players in the last few years, along with Billy Bodin and Matt Taylor, Tom Lockyer was the last of that group to remain at The Gas having never quite hit the heights some thought he had the potential to reach.
He recently declined a new contract with the club and was released at the end of the 2018/19 season, meaning he would be available to snap up on a Bosman. There are reportedly many clubs interested in his services, most publicly Nottingham Forest, so North End will face stiff competition for the 24-year-old Welshman, should they attempt to sign him.
Also released by his club at the end of last season was Ryan Tafazolli. Peterborough United’s player of the season for 2016/17 turned down a new deal at London Road and will be looking to further his career with an arguably overdue move upwards in the English league pyramid.
Standing at just under 6’4″, Tafazolli is one of the older options at center-half at 27 years of age, but would offer some of that strong experience at a decent level that Alex Neil is looking for.
Part of the Chesterfield side beaten 4-0 over two legs by North End as a part of the best play-off campaign ever in 2015, Sam Morsy soon left the Spireites to try to make the step up for himself. In the January of the following season, he got himself a move to Wigan Athletic who would go on to be promoted as champions later that year.
Capped at international level by Egypt, the combative midfielder has plenty to offer at both ends of the pitch but is mostly utilised for his strength in breaking up opposition play and beginning fresh attacks. Usually fielded in the role of a ‘number 6’ type midfielder, Morsy also has a strong passing range and has been known to chip in with a few goals. He would appear to be a very good option to bolster the midfield ranks, should PNE fight off the considerable interest from elsewhere.
Currently attached to cash-strapped Bolton Wanderers, the 18-year-old Connell appears to be an exciting young midfield prospect. A product of Wanderers’ academy, he has just been called up to the senior Republic of Ireland set-up, an incredible achievement for a player of his age. This could just be a signal of things to come, especially considering in Mick McCarthy’s side he’ll be playing football alongside North End favourites such as Callum Robinson and Sean Maguire. Alan Browne would have been there had he not picked up a calf injury while training with Mick McCarthy’s squad.
There are already rumblings of whether or not Connell might switch international allegiances, amidst interest from England, which just goes to show how highly rated the teenager is. Something that may tip the balance in our favour when persuing Connell is that he is looking to move to a club where he would not only progress in stature but would be likely to get a good amount of first-team football. For this reason, Norwich City recently cooled their interest in the energetic midfielder.
He would also perhaps be a more suitable option for Alex Neil’s plans than Sam Morsy, he likes to get on the ball and progress play from deep, using his pace and mobility to join the attacking phase.
Last season, PNE found themselves short of left-footed attacking options, particularly after the injury to Billy Bodin ruled him out for the whole campaign. With this in mind, it stands to reason that we will be looking to bring in a left-footed winger in the transfer window, whilst also looking to generally improve our strength in depth in the front line.
Another player just about still on the books at Bolton Wanderers, Sammy Ameobi is a tall, powerful winger who is certainly not afraid to shoot from distance. The youngest of three footballing brothers, the other two being Toni and, of course, Shola, the 6’4″ wide-man began his career at Newcastle just like his siblings, before going on to represent Middlesborough, Cardiff and most recently Bolton.
At age 27, and having played in the Championship or higher in all but one of his seasons in the professional game, Ameobi also brings some of that experience, much desired by Alex Neil. North End fans might remember it was a speculative effort from Ameobi that squirmed through Declan Rudd to begin Bolton’s comeback at Deepdale early last season.
Let’s hope he can cause goalkeepers just as many problems if we pick him up, should he choose to leave Bolton on a free this summer. Despite having a year left on his contract in Horwich, he would be within his rights to choose to cancel his deal and leave on a free, given that he has not been paid in the last two months.
More of an “out-and-out“ winger than Ameobi, CJ Hamilton of Mansfield looks to be another somewhat hidden gem in the lower leagues. With over 100 appearances for the Stags, the highly rated winger may be looking to make a step up the league ladder and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Josh Ginnelly.
Having only just recently turned 24, he still has plenty of room to develop and his rapid pace and incredibly direct approach to taking players on and clinicality in his final product would make him a fantastic option out on that left-hand side.
Furthering the ties between Manchester City and PNE, Luka Ilić is an option for the number 10 role that might prove a very savvy deal. The 19-year-old is currently on loan at NAC Breda in the Netherlands, but City may look to get the highly thought of Serbian some experience in the English leagues next season.
A natural left footer, Ilić’s play is reminiscent of that of Bersant Celina, another City youngster who impressed in the Championship in the season just gone, turning out for Swansea City. Technical and creative, he is also capable of playing deeper in the midfield so would be a very useful signing in terms of giving an extra option to a couple of positions in midfield.
With the added bonus of being something of a fledgling set-piece specialist, Ilić would appear to fit quite snugly into Alex Neil’s plans.
Having broken into the Fleetwood team aged just 20 in 2015 and steadily gaining more first-team football, last season Hunter contributed to over 20 goals in all competitions, scoring 9 and assisting 12. The 23-year-old can play anywhere across the attack line of midfield and up top as a striker.
Due to his attacking versatility, if he was to come in, I could see him being used on the left similarly to how Billy Bodin is used on the right, with him playing the role of almost an inside forward, cutting infield onto his stronger foot. A strong end product and a large dose of creativity will appeal greatly to Alex Neil, although he has two years remaining on his contract and so might command a decent fee.
Is there anyone who you would like to see us bring in from these 12 options? Or perhaps there is someone not mentioned here you think would be worth looking at? Let us know on social media, we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, just search for ‘From the Finney’ and say hello!