Dave Seddon's big match verdict
If Preston's final friendly of the pre-season at Bolton did anything, it was to emphasise that the real stuff cannot come soon enough.
You can dress up these programme of games between early and late July all you want, but they matter not a jot once the whistle sounds on the kick-off to the new season.
This Macron Stadium clash will soon be forgotten, a Lancashire hotpot which at best was lukewarm and mostly cold and unappetising.
It served a purpose from a PNE perspective in that 19 players got game-time under their belts – or ‘minutes’ to use this summer’s buzz word.
We learned that the defence still had that meanness about them, the one which led to only 45 league goals being shipped last season.
The blank scoreline, at the same time, led to people worrying out loud about an attack which averaged just less than a goal a Championship game in 2015/16.
But it will only be once it all gets under way at Reading on Saturday that things start to count properly.
Lilywhites manager Simon Grayson expressed himself satisfied enough with his side’s work, on the basis that the game had a decent tempo about it, he was able to look at a different system and that all his players came through it relatively unscathed.
Paul Gallagher might still be feeling a bit sore about being caught late by Darren Pratley in a midfield challenge which bordered on the naughty.
Other than that, the game was good for fitness – one last chance to blow the cobwebs off before things get serious.
For Tommy Spurr, there was a precious 30 minutes on the pitch in his bid for match fitness after a pre-season interrupted by injury.
The summer arrival from Blackburn missed three friendlies and a couple of weeks of training with a damaged ankle – the painful legacy of the trip to Chorley.
In terms of the Reading trip on the opening day, his release from the care of physio Matt Jackson has probably come just in time.
Spurr said: “I’m still playing catch-up with everyone, I feel a bit leggy but I’m getting back into it.
“I only got back into training last Monday and then played at Morecambe the next night.
“We had sessions on Thursday and Friday, then it was half-an-hour in this one.
“To get two run-outs close together has been good and I’ve just got to get up to the level where the others are at.
“It is a case of getting as fit as I can – match fitness rather than just running.
“With the running, I have been fine, it is now the sharpness and football work which I need.
“I will do some extra stuff this week to put myself in contention for this weekend.
“Against Bolton it was hard work because when you come on as a substitute, it is difficult to pick up the pace after being sat down for an hour.
“Playing wing-back when you are up and down the pitch, is hard too but it will all help me get the fitness back.
“I can’t wait for the Reading game where there is something proper riding on it – that gets your adrenaline going.
“There is no better feeling than a competitive game which really counts, especially if you are able to get three points.”
I would very much doubt that the side Grayson started with at Bolton will be the one which lines up against Reading.
He was never likely to show his hand with scouts from the Berkshire club in attendance, likewise the Royals would not have had their intended XI in action on Friday night against Bournemouth – a game which North End scouted.
Grayson went for a system which could be interpreted as a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 with a diamond-shaped midfield.
There were three strikers out there, Eoin Doyle tucked in just behind Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford. Gallagher sat deep in the midfield, Daniel Johnson and Ben Pringle further forward.
The back four was made up of Liam Grimshaw, Bailey Wright, Paul Huntington and Greg Cunningham.
Grimshaw you would still describe as filling in at right-back as we await movement in the transfer market to replace Calum Woods.
He did a decent-enough job on Saturday, was busy and showed a burst of pace in the first half which drew a round of applause from the 800-strong travelling Preston faithful.
In the longer term though, more of a specialised defender is required on that side.
Bolton played with a similar formation to PNE, the result being – as Grayson pointed out – that the sides rather cancelled each other out.
I would hazard a guess at a switch to 3-5-2 at Reading, with Chris Humphrey in for Grimshaw.
Said Grayson: “We are not a predictable side. I will pick a team which I think has the best chance to win us a game on that particularly day.
“We have tried to use a few different formations during the pre-season and hopefully no one, apart from myself, will be able to guess how we line up at Reading.
“Managers don’t often like to show their hand too early, you are always going to change things around in friendlies.
“I have always stressed that pre-season is a means to an end, it is about getting the players as fit as possible and about getting as many players available for selection.
“We have looked at different ways of playing and I’m pleased with how the players have reacted to what we’ve asked them to do.
“I thought that at Bolton, we played the system quite well, bearing in mind we hadn’t used it too much before. They played a similar way and we cancelled each other out.”
The first half was better than the second as a spectacle, PNE having early chances through Garner and Doyle – both set up by Cunningham.
Their best chance of the game came after the interval, Garner’s cross bouncing invitingly for Beckford who cleared the bar with a shot from 12 yards.
The second half was littered with substitutions, inevitably affecting the flow of the game.
Roll on Reading, the proper ball is about to come out.