Phil Brown will oversee a summer of change at Deepdale as he plots a route back to the Championship for Preston North End.
Yesterday’s 1-0 home defeat to Cardiff City condemned North End to League One, the club suffering its first relegation for 18 years.
Brown couldn’t hide his disappointment at being unable to keep them up, and graciously accepted full responsibility – even though much of the damage had been inflicted before his January arrival in the manager’s job.
And he’s vowed to do his utmost to lead Preston back to English football’s second tier as swiftly as possible.
With the spectre of relegation hanging over the club for some months, Brown was putting plans in place should the worst happen.
The pre-season training schedule is already in place, while decisions will soon be made about the futures of around a dozen players whose contracts are up in the summer.
Inevitably there will be some high profile departures, stand-in skipper Billy Jones likely to seek a higher grade of football when his deal runs out in June.
Andrew Lonergan looks set to move on, while Sean St Ledger is bound to attract speculation about his future.
Brown told the Evening Post: “We have already talked long and hard – myself, Brian Horton, David Unsworth and the chairman – about where we go.
“We obviously have to sit and plan for the future, that is what management is all about.
“We’ve got some big decisions to make about people whose contracts are up – at the same time, some players have a big decision to make about whether they want to give us a chance in League One.
“In the last few weeks we’ve signed up a number of younger pros who will go towards being the bulk of the squad for next season as opposed to the quality we have been able to put on the field of late.
“That is the game, that is life – we accept the challenge.
“Next season we will hit the ground running – one thing is for sure, we’ll be able to run.”
Brown spoke to fans in the Deepdale hospitality lounges after yesterday’s defeat which saw Peter Whittingham net an early winner for Cardiff.
And he admitted it had been an emotional time facing them after suffering only the second relegation of his career.
Said Brown: “I nearly broke down in front of the supporters. I hold myself responsible for relegation, end of story.
“People might say I came in too late or the previous guy was there too long – all those things have been said to me.
“But I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think I could keep this club in the Championship, hence I hold myself responsible.
“If you want to look back at the tale of the tape, we didn’t get our first win under me until too late. Then all of a sudden it was catch-up time.
“Also, the luck that evaded us all season, evaded us against Cardiff yesterday.
“I thought it was a leg-breaking tackle on Iain Hume which left him with a scar from his knee to ankle – for me, that should have been a red card.
“Then we should have had a penalty which would have changed the course of the game.
“We raised the level of performance, expectancy and belief in the last 12 or 13 games – we gave ourselves a chance.”
North End will be without Bongani Khumalo for the remaining two matches, after he fractured a bone in his foot in the Millwall game.