dave seddon’s pressview
As the first anniversary of Simon Grayson’s appointment as Preston manager nears, his 12 months in charge at Deepdale will be analysed by supporters and media alike.
Turn the page of this newspaper from where you are now, and you will find the man himself reflecting on a year at the helm and all the challenges that has brought.
Currently, North End are reaping the benefit of Grayson’s steadying hand on the tiller.
The club had been sliding down a slippery slope since the early part of the 2009/10 season – the seven-game unbeaten run which followed the play-off semi-final defeat to Sheffield United in May 2009 – giving way to managerial musical chairs, changing chairmen and a general feeling of instability.
Things seem a whole lot calmer now and today we can look forward to a fourth versus third battle against a Leyton Orient side which has the potential of being a cracker.
With it only being the middle of February, we are not yet at the stage of a game being a season-definer.
However, the outcome later this afternoon will strengthen or weaken PNE’s hand in terms of making a chase for the automatic promotion berths.
To be talking in such terms would have seemed crazy 12 months ago, this the corresponding weekend when John Dreyer was in caretaker charge, bridging the gap between the exit of Graham Westley and Grayson’s arrival.
That few days marked the start of Preston’s recovery, one which has gathered pace and taken us to where they now find themselves.
Three things have really stood out for me about Grayson since he took the job.
The first has been the ability to re-build steadily and still make significant progress.
Another is his use of various formations, with the third being able to keep the squad happy – not an easy thing.
Managers who are new to a particular job like nothing better than to put a marker down with a list of signings.
Darren Ferguson, Phil Brown and Westley all paraded a host of new faces within a short time of getting their feet under the table.
Whether it was finance or a genuine belief in who he inherited, but Grayson made do with what he had got last season.
A record of five wins, six draws and only three defeats in the last 14 games of 2012/13 shows that it was the right call.
It gave him breathing space when it came to the transfer market, and in the summer he was able to do some shopping in an unhurried manner, bringing in Kevin Davies, Tom Clarke and Chris Humphrey.
As the season has gone on, Paul Gallagher, Neil Kilkenny, Scott Wiseman and Craig Davies have been added.
Grayson has used a variety of systems this term – 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1.
We all have our own favourites and have debated the use of them all over a pint at some stage.
Some supporters see the change from one to another as unnecessary, but more and more managers favour this horses for courses approach.
On the odd occasion it has not worked, the 3-5-2 at home to Brentford probably the major example. But with only four league defeats to date, more often than not, a variety of approaches is working.
There have been some big calls in there, notably Jack King’s inclusion in the defence when North End played down at Orient in November.
As for keeping the whole squad happy, that is probably one of the trickiest tasks for a manager. You need a decent-sized squad but can only put a kit out for 18 on match-day.
Thankfully there has been no ostracising, no exiling, and no public grumbles.
I am not claiming for one minute that those currently out of the picture are doing cartwheels. But they are being kept involved, cajoled and assured they will be needed.