As we approach the January transfer window, Alex Neil’s third in his time at the club, it’s inevitable that the conversation will soon turn to the window itself. It actually already kind of has with people starting to wonder whether or not we will be selling any of our best players and of course whether or not the manager will be properly backed in the winter window.
There are plenty of articles doing the rounds online at the moment linking our players to moves away too. There has been one stating that Burnley are plotting a move for Ben Pearson, Ben Davies has been linked with moves to Wolves and Brighton respectively.
This past week hasn’t been the best to be a North End fan as far as results are concerned when compared to the start of the season and I think as a result of the back-to-back defeats, there have been some overreactions on social media. I have seen people saying that we are going to sell some of our better players in January and essentially alluding to the fact they think our season is now over. I couldn’t disagree more.
Peter Ridsdale and Alex Neil have both said that we won’t be selling anyone in January and I may be in the minority here but, I believe them. It would be suicide if we do.
Granted, our results haven’t been good this week and the performances haven’t been much to shout about either but people need to keep their heads a bit. I will admit though, we need to arrest this mini-run of bacl to back defeats on Monday night.
The last time we lost more than 2 games on the bounce was the end of last season, a mini-run that all but brought an end to our outside chances of the play-offs last season. It all started after we went level on points with Villa at the end of March following a 1-0 win over Birmingham City.
We then lost 2-1 at Reading (shock), 1-0 against eventual runners-up Sheffield United, 2-0 against play-off semi-finalists Leeds United and then 4-1 to the other play-off semi-finalists, West Brom. We need to avoid another run like that but one thing that this squad has shown, not just this season but at other times in Alex Neil’s reign is their ability to bounce back from adversity. They need help though.
We spoke at length in the summer about how the manager needed backing. It was a well-known secret that he wanted to bring in a goalkeeper and after being linked all summer with young Man City ‘keeper Aro Muric, we ended up with no one in through the door come the closing of the transfer window.
We were also severely lacking in the striking department. In recent years we sold Jordan Hugill for near £10m and of course, Callum Robinson joined Premier League new boys Sheffield United for around £7m last summer; the best part of £20m brought into the club.
In his last full season, Callum contributed 15 goals in all competitions for us (12 goals, 3 assists) and in his last full season and a half, Jordan Hugill contributed 23 goals in all competitions for us (2016/17 – 12 goals, 2 assists and 2017/18 – 8 goals, 1 assist).
Now, don’t get me wrong, DJ and Barky are well on their way in terms of goals and assists so far this season but more than half of DJ’s goals this season have come from the penalty spot which isn’t sustainable over the course of a season.
Barky, on the other hand, is doing okay so far with 5 goals in the league, 7 in all competitions but we can’t be relying on just him and hoping for penalties that DJ or Gally can convert. The manager needs more options available to him.
In Sean Maguire, Jayden Stockley and David Nugent, he has strikers available but each has their drawbacks. But that’s the other thing to note, neither DJ or Barky are strikers, one is a midfielder and the other is a wide player.
Jayden Stockley is a player that we have been critical of here at From the Finney but as we have said numerous times, he will be better suited to some games more than others and that is proving the case. Nugent is 34 years old and increasingly looking his age and Sean Maguire has been much better out wide this season.
You could argue that Tom Barkhuizen is going some way to filling the hole left by Robinson’s departure but since Hugill left, no one has filled that void left up at the top end of the pitch and when I say that Trevor and the rest of the board need to back the manager, that has to be one of the key positions.
We need an out and striker, someone with the nous and knowhow to play that lone frontman position. Someone who can run the channels, has ability with the ball at their feet, can give defenders something to think about. Folk will argue we have that in Jayden Stockley but he’s not mobile enough.
He has shown of late how he is a useful option but we need more than useful right now.
The other position that, in my opinion, needs strengthening is the goalkeeper. Don’t get me wrong, Rudd has improved this season but hasn’t been without fault. In fairness, many of the lads haven’t been without fault but it’s highlighted more when you’re in the sticks and he has had a rocky couple of years here since Alex Neil came in.
To be honest, I don’t know how the club should go with this one. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that we will be able to bring in someone of vast experience and quality in January, even on loan. But is bringing in an unproven youngster the right thing to do?
Don’t get me wrong, it can work. Look at Jordan Pickford and Sam Johnstone. Unproven when we brought them to the club, less so Johnstone as he was at Doncaster in the same League but Pickford was certainly unproven at this level. Ultimately though, both worked out well enough.
Pickford showed his quality and (I think) kept a record number of clean sheets for us in his half-season at Deepdale and Johnstone pretty much immediately replaced fan-favourite Thorsten Stuckmann, who many thought was doing a good enough job at the time, and was pretty much a mainstay in the side that culminated in us winning promotion back to the Championship and ending our play-off curse.
On the flip side though, it could go belly up too. With that, you risk upsetting the player who has been #1 for the majority of the season and then you also risk upsetting the player you have brought in on loan too. It’s a decision that ultimately rests with the manager and he has struggled with the goalkeeping position in his time here so far. But if the opportunity to bring some real quality in that position arises in the winter window, it’s one we should take.
Finally, the other area is at full-back. We spoke at length in the summer about the need for a replacement to be brought in and after the defeat at Hull City in which we had one fit full back on the pitch, it again just went to prove the importance of strengthening properly when we have the opportunity.
January windows have previously seen us spend when in trouble in order to try and avoid exiting the league at the wrong end or not doing a great deal of business. Last season we brought in Joe Rafferty, Brad Potts, Jayden Stockley, Josh Ginnelly and Connor Ripley. 5 signings when we were down around the bottom end of the Championship that all had a hand in our 14th place finish last season.
The season before that when we finished 7th, Billy Bodin, Louis Moult and Connor Simpson all joined the club. It’s safe to say that none of the three have really had chance to have much of an impact at the club just yet when you take injuries into account and the fact that Simpson seems to have been a signing for the future.
We all know that managers at North End rarely get properly backed in transfer windows when we are in a ‘positive’ position if you will.
I would argue that this is the best chance we have had in a long time to get out of this division at the right end and the manager has worked on a shoestring in his time here and with the best part of, if not more than £20m coming into the club from outgoing transfers, I think the manager deserves a bit more money to be made available to him this time around.
Whether that comes in the form of an increase to the wage budget to allow us to perhaps bring in a more experienced player from the Premier League on loan or if that comes in the form of more money to be spent on the actual fee for a player, or maybe both. This is the time, it’s a gamble that could pay off in the form of millions and millions of pounds should we get promoted.
Add to this that the training ground is still no closer to even starting, never mind being finished, despite John Kay stating at a fans’ forum in 2018 that we could either have a £10m player or a £10m training ground, but not both.
As I write at the moment, we have neither having of those having sold Hugill for around that amount and Robinson for around £7m in the summer just gone and we were informed at the latest fans’ forum that any developments on the fans’ forum are dependant on housing proposals getting through the planning authorities. So just where exactly do we stand with either the £10m player or the £10m training ground?
Let me be clear, I don’t expect the club to go out and spend multi-millions on one player but I feel there is a level above our current that we could move up to in order to give us the best opportunity of promotion to the Premier League.
I apologise if this is a bit of a rant and perhaps doesn’t make much sense but I am calling for calm among the supporters and some backing from the club for the manager. This season for me is make or break. Failure this season could result in the players mentioned at the top of the piece leaving along with perhaps a few more, including the manager.
Let’s get behind the boys on Monday night, get down to Deepdale with your scarves if you can and be loud, be proud and let’s show the Sky Sports audience what the atmosphere at Deepdale can be like and give our boys the backing they deserve for a great start to the season.
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