Dave Seddon's PNE press view
Preston North End's forward line has come under much scrutiny this season and attention will be trained on it at Bolton today to see how it copes without Joe Garner.
The Gentry Day visit down the M61 to Horwich and next Saturday’s Deepdale clash with Queens Park Rangers have both got to be negotiated without the banned Garner.
It opens the door for one of the other strikers and Simon Grayson’s choice is keenly awaited by the PNE faithful.
Just addressing Garner’s suspension before looking at the replacement options, there was an air of inevitability that a 10th yellow card would eventually come his way.
His ninth came on January 23 against Brentford and the law of averages suggested the ban-triggering No.10 was just around the corner.
So for him to keep his head down and stay on the right side of referees for seven games, somewhat defied the odds.
It has been argued since Tuesday night that the caution at Nottingham Forest which led to his suspension was on the harsh side.
It was not clear at the time exactly what Garner had done and a look at the highlights offers few clues.
In a nutshell, he moved to follow up a shot from Calum Woods which was saved by Forest keeper Dorus De Vries.
He did not get near the ball or keeper, blocked off by his marker Matt Mills.
The clip of footage would suggest he got a bit of a shove from Mills in the aftermath, that about the sum total of the incident.
‘Adopting an aggressive attitude’ is understood to be the way the referee saw things, hence why the card came out.
Harsh? Yes. But then again, Garner’s style of play will often see the benefit of doubt removed from the thinking of match officials.
With him suspended, the depth and quality of Preston’s striking options will now be put to the test, firstly at the Macron Stadium – the Reebok in old money – and then back in front of the home faithful in a week’s time.
Jordan Hugill, Eoin Doyle and Callum Robinson are the players ready to step up.
All got an audition once Garner had been subbed at the City Ground, Hugill and Robinson getting the whole of the second half, with Doyle the last 15 minutes.
If Grayson was to stick with the 3-5-2 favoured of late and have Adam Reach as the second striker, I would hazard a strong guess at Hugill being given a start.
He has had more game-time than Doyle over the last month or so and his hold-up play could be the right kind of foil for Reach to play off.
That said, Doyle would seem to carry more of a goal threat, even if we have not seen too much evidence of that in his time with North End.
A formation switch might be needed to bring Robinson into the equation in terms of him starting against Bolton.
Grayson has got the best out of him to date operating on the left-hand side of a 4-3-3.
Robinson and Reach either side of Hugill or Doyle would fit nicely into that system.
Whether it is Hugill, Doyle or Robinson who gets to take Garner’s place, the common theme is that goals have hardly been flying in from them.
Hugill has yet to score in the Championship, his one goal of the campaign coming in the Capital One Cup against Bournemouth.
Since joining on loan from Cardiff City at the start of September, Doyle has scored just twice.
Two goals in successive games as a half-time substitute against Charlton and Cardiff, sees Robinson, statistically, carrying the bigger threat.
If one of the trio comes up with a winner at Bolton, the Gentry will be tipping their hats to them.
Looking further ahead, the search for goals will inevitably see North End doing some striker shopping this summer.
It will be a crucial piece of business, a key step to helping PNE push on.
They have not had the best of fortunes on the striker front this season.
Jermaine Beckford’s lengthy absence after knee surgery has hit hard, the good news being that he is not too far off a return to action.
There was little chance for Stevie May to find his feet as a Preston player before he was cut down with a tackle at Fulham less than three months after arriving, one which has sidelined him until next season.
Will Keane opted to swap a regular first-team game for Monday nights in Manchester United’s Under-21s.
Doyle’s loan has not exactly gone to plan, leaving Garner for the most part to lead the line. We will see today and next week how much he is missed –hopefully someone can step up and be a hero of the Gentry.