Dave Seddon's PNE Press View
Results for Preston in the opening fortnight of the season have come as a bit of a surprise.
Maybe not so much the outcome of the three league games played to date, more so the scorelines.
Won one, drew one, lost one – one goal for and one against, both of them from the penalty spot.
An intriguing sequence and it will be interesting to see whether today’s clash with Reading follows a similar path.
With a change of style brought in by Alex Neil – an encouragement to pass the ball and a vow to attack – we perhaps envisaged a glut of Preston goals.
Coupled with uncertainty over the Lilywhites defence, the prediction from fans on the eve of the season was for some high-scoring games.
Quite the reverse of that has happened to date, only the 3-2 defeat to Accrington in the League Cup following the high-scoring vision.
Nine team changes that night offers an explanation for veering away from what we have seen in the league.
In term of PNE’s forward gear, we have seen a change under Neil’s guidance as he promised.
There is no question that they are moving the ball more fluidly around the pitch, happy to play out from the back when not being pressed high.
As Neil pointed out this week, it is carrying that play into the last third of the pitch which still needs attention.
Not every pass or move is going to be perfect but Neil wants the right option to be picked far more often than not.
Twice in the first half at Derby on Tuesday night, PNE launched counter-attacks.
They offered promise, three against three and the correct pass would have led to a one-on-one scenario.
But the ball went right instead of left, or left instead of right, the chances ending up going begging.
It is that type of situation which Neil wants coming as second nature to his players.
Maybe with that in mind we might see a tweak to the front line against Reading.
Neil is not short of options at that end of the pitch and they are exciting ones.
If you are looking at who can play in the three behind the striker, you have Callum Robinson, Tom Barkhuizen, Josh Harrop, Daryl Horgan, Daniel Johnson and Stephy Mavididi.
While we regard Sean Maguire as a striker to lead the line in the way Jordan Hugill does, the Irishman is quite capable of dropping off to do a slightly different job.
So plenty there for Neil to ponder as he looks to get the goals flowing rather than just dripping.
At the other end of the pitch, the statistics speak for themselves in terms of how Preston have defended.
Only Derby have breached them to date, a needlessly conceded penalty at that.
When the squad came back for pre-season training on June 29, who thought that Paul Huntington and Tommy Spurr would be the central defensive pairing of choice?
Me neither. But so far, so good and credit to them for the start they’ve made.
That is not say another defender has been scrubbed off the shopping list before the end of the month.
Would Huntington, Spurr, Ben Davies and Andy Boyle be enough to carry them through to January?
Another one would give more options and depending on who, some extra height.
Just looking at that list of defenders, Spurr and Davies have particularly benefited from the change of regime at Deepdale.
Spurr was more a bit-part player last season, used as cover primarily for Greg Cunningham at left-back.
Towards the end of last season he was like the Grim Reaper when it came to being the stand-in when injury struck.
Over Easter, it was Spurr who came off the bench first to replace the stricken Tom Clarke at Huddersfield and then Cunningham at home to Norwich.
Davies spent half of last season on loan in League One with Fleetwood, a spell which looks to have done him a world of good.
Previous loans lower down in League Two and the National League, have been part of a football education.
It might well be that he would have got a chance to impress had Simon Grayson stayed, but Neil’s arrival was a huge boost for Davies.
Neil admitted to having scouted Davies during the Fleetwood loan for Norwich, his ability to bring the ball out of defence something to catch his eye.
I’ve written before that teams and squads evolve, some players emerge from nowhere to impress.
What certainly hasn’t evolved since last season is the M6 motorway if the trip back from Derby is anything to go by.
After numerous hold-ups, diversions and closures on the way back from away games last term, there was more of the same late on Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday.
The re-route through the ‘cultural quarter’ of Stoke was a gentle warm-up ready for a one-lane crawl up a big section of the M6.
I hope the development of the ‘smart’ motorway is worth the three years of ‘fun’ of staring at the back of the lorry in queue after queue.
Oh joy, it is Bristol City away on a Tuesday night!