Dave Seddon’s pressview: Preston going in the right direction
Hopefully Preston’s midweek win over Fulham was the start of a climb out of their dip in form and towards a far better run of results.
If we are to use the last two seasons as a guide, it could well be a promising few weeks for PNE.
Two years ago when the Lilywhites lost four games on the spin, a run in which they were missing a whole host of defenders, the response was a nine-game unbeaten run.
At the tail end of that 2017/18 season, a three-game losing run gave way to a strong finish of four wins and a draw in the final five matches.
Four losses in a row early last season saw North End bounce back to go nine unbeaten.
When they wobbled either side of Christmas, the response saw them put together a 12-match unbeaten run.
Unfortunately the powers of recovery weren’t there in the last few weeks of the campaign.
The performance against Fulham was impressive and offered hope that the blip in results was over.
A clash with the team in third place might not have looked too appetising for a side who had got themselves into a rut of losses.
But the day before in his press conference there a suggestion from Alex Neil that Fulham’s style might just allow North End some room to play and build.
The use of a more fluid attack helped, David Nugent spearheading it with Billy Bodin and Sean Maguire either side of him.
With Nugent up front, there wasn’t the temptation to go long as you get with Jayden Stockley.
Just pausing there, the use of Stockley certainly suits particular games.
He was most influential in the wins over Blackburn, Charlton and Huddersfield.
Him being replaced by Nugent for Fulham was a horses for courses approach from Neil.
North End getting into the lead against Fulham was so important.
For starters, they scored for the first time since early in the second half of the Huddersfield game.
It meant they were not chasing, the story of this season largely being that if they scored first, they got something from the game.
PNE did chase against Blackburn and Bristol City to gather a win and draw.
Away from home though, all the points they’ve taken have come after going in front.
Sean Maguire scoring the opener against Fulham gave him a visible lift.
He hadn’t scored on club duty since September at Birmingham so this one was somewhat overdue.
Maguire went on to have a good game, going close with a couple of other chances and being involved in the build-up to Nugent’s goal.
That was a big moment, the 34-year-old’s first goal of his second spell here.
In putting the ball over the line, Nugent became North End’s 14th scorer in the Championship this season – an impressive spread of goals.
Lots of things worked well on Tuesday night, the defence holding firm until the latter stages.
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 82nd minute goal which took a decent touch off Ben Pearson on the way in, was Fulham’s one chance on target.
Post-match, Neil was quick to praise Patrick Bauer and Paul Huntington for their policing of Serbia international Mitrovic.
The midfield was better, Potts far more involved in the game than he had been at Queens Park Rangers.
Maybe he was fortunate to play this one after his QPR show but he took this chance well and set-up Nugent’s goal with the initial run and shot.
The fact it was 10 v 10 for more than 45 minutes added to the game.
There cannot have been too many times at Deepdale where a player from each side had been red carded before half-time for separate fouls.
While the squad is still hit by injuries, it looks like slowly North End are coming out on the other side.
The Hull, West Brom and Queens Park Rangers games were probably peak for players missing.
For the visit to Hull, Alan Browne, Ben Davies, Darnell Fisher, Andrew Hughes and Tom Clarke were all missing.
They got Browne back for West Brom but lost Bauer and Paul Gallagher.
At QPR, Hughes returned, Clarke was fit enough to sit on the bench but Daniel Johnson was out.
Bauer got back to face Fulham, Clarke got a few minutes at the end.
You can now throw into the mix Joe Rafferty’s three-game suspension, another selection issue for Neil.
With Neil not in the game of giving out injury updates, bar if a player’s leg is hanging off, it’s hard to say with accuracy when the others will be back.
Perhaps Davies and Fisher will be the next two back.
What has been different about the current run of injuries to the pile-ups of the last two season, is the length of absences.
Clarke and Hughes aside, the others have come since the defeat at Derby three weeks ago.
They’ve been pulls and strains, annoying rather than anything too serious.
Remembering back to the absence of defenders in the autumn of 2017, it was all manner of things – knee ligaments, hamstrings, an appendicitis.
Last season there were a lot of hamstrings, with Maguire, Callum Robinson, Brandon Barker among those to get that injury.
Robinson’s was a surgery job to reattach muscle to tendon, Greg Cunningham having the same operation the year before.
In line with most clubs, the depth of North End’s depth of quality allows for a couple of injuries to have little detrimental affect.
But three, four, five and six injuries at once, that is when the going gets tough and they look vulnerable.
To cover all those with a similar level of quality would take some stockpiling.
Can you legislate for having so many players in one position out of action, can you really cover that?