What has really stuck out for me during the first three months of the season is the manner in which Preston North End’s side has evolved.
A team which starts the season will rarely finish it, be it because of injuries, form or activity in the transfer market
In the days leading-up to the start of the season, I remember Simon Grayson discussing team selection in a press conference.
Grayson’s message was that everyone wants to play on the opening day of a campaign but for those who didn’t make the starting XI, their chance would come at some stage.
As we sit here in the second week of November, tapping our fingers impatiently waiting for the third international break in as many months to finish, those words from the PNE boss have rung true.
If you look at the team which started at Reading on August 6 and compared it those fielded in recent weeks, things have changed considerably.
Chris Maxwell, Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson – all key players of late – were sat on the bench in Berkshire.
Ben Pearson, North End’s key performer during October, didn’t even make the match-day squad at the Madejski Stadium.
As for Alex Baptiste, Aiden McGeady and Marnick Vermijl, they were with other clubs and still three weeks away from being Deepdale-bound.
Picking through a few of the starters at Reading, Joe Garner has moved on since then.
His strike partner that day, Jermaine Beckford, is recently back from a two-month injury lay-off and slowly feeling his way back into action.
Liam Grimshaw’s use as a right wing-back was soon put into cold storage.
Reading was one of only two league starts to date this term for Paul Huntington.
Bar the 6-0 defeat against Newcastle in the EFL Cup, Anders Lindegaard has been warming the bench since September with the first-choice gloves very much on Maxwell’s hands.
An evolution indeed, players getting their chance to impress and in many cases, taking it.
I dare say that it is likely to continue over the remainder of the season, although perhaps not to the extent we have seen in the last three months.
Preston’s progress of late has been pleasing, a decent enough finish to September giving way to an extremely good October.
November did not start too badly either, with the 3-1 win at Rotherham a week last Saturday.
The win over Aston Villa was a sign of things to come in October, the manner of it just as important as the outcome.
The four league games against the top four of the time were dealt with impressively, even if the cup game at Newcastle was not.
At the start of last month, would you have bet your mortgage on wins over Huddersfield and Norwich and a draw at Brighton?
A stronger referee against Newcastle or Vermijl’s overhead kick falling three inches the other way, and a point at least could have been added to the collection.
Victory at Rotherham was a job well done, it being a potential slip-up.
Since August, it has been a case of breaking the season into blocks, the international breaks a natural end to each one.
This the last international break until March, so I suppose we are now going into a four-month block of matches.
Three of PNE’s next four games are at Deepdale – Wolves, Burton and Blackburn, with a visit to Sheffield Wednesday in between Burton and Rovers.
Maintaining the good home form of recent weeks would see Grayson’s men continue their push in the right direction.
Then before too long,the season will be at its half-way point.