Dave Seddon's pressview

Nothing is won or lost at a press conference but it is fair to say that Alex Neil gave Preston fans a good first impression of himself this week.

Friday, 7th July 2017, 2:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:34 am
PNE's new manager Alex Neil meets the media

After landing the North End job, the first task on his to-do list was to meet with the media.

Managerial ‘unveiling’ press conferences tend to follow a similar pattern at whatever club they are held.

There is an appearance sat at the top table when Sky ask a few gentle half-volley questions to draw out the standard ‘delighted to be here’ line.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

With the promise of one-to-one interviews to come, the majority of other hacks stay quiet, keeping their powder dry for when they get a few minutes in the company of the new man.

Such interviews tend to come after a photo-shoot which involves at some stage the obligatory scarf-holding shot.

Neil found himself with the scarf, was asked to hold it at different angles and at one stage was requested by a snapper to kneel down on the pitch and inspect the Deepdale turf!

I found Neil to be focused, driven and enthusiastic about the job he had signed up for.

There was a realism about the budget and how he was to go about the task of trying to lead the squad forward.

He made no promises but acknowledges that sooner or later, North End want to be in the Premier League.

Neil took Norwich City on that journey to the top flight two years ago and he wants to push his new club in the same direction.

Judging by the timescale of his appointment, Neil was clearly the chosen one from the moment Simon Grayson upped sticks for Sunderland.

The job was basically his from late on Monday and once the legal niceties were done, it was confirmed on Tuesday and by Wednesday he was on press duty.

Thursday saw him meet the players and his staff, the job beginning properly.

If Neil can start solidly at Deepdale and go on to push the club forward as is his plan, then Preston will have done well to have turned a potentially tricky situation into something of promise.

To have your manager lured away an hour before pre-season training starts is a rare occurrence.

Close-season managerial changes commonly happen earlier in the summer break, not as the players are sat comparing holiday tans in the dressing room ahead of a punishing few weeks on the training pitch.

PNE were unfortunate to be drawn into a far from straightforward situation involving Sunderland and Grayson.

He was their choice for the Stadium of Light job but only if a takeover of the club did not happen.

Far simpler would have been for all this to happen a few weeks earlier with there no takeover talk to muddy the waters.

It is water under the bridge now, Grayson is gone and Neil’s in position.

So what are North End getting with the Scotsman?

He is a young manager to start with, just 36.

David Moyes was 34 when he got the PNE job in 1998, while Darren Ferguson was 37 at the start of his ill-fated reign.

Neil nestles in between the pair in terms of age and hopefully he can be far more Moyes-esque than Fergie in terms of success.

In both his previous jobs he got a promotion, the first in Scotland with Hamilton, then the aforementioned one to the Premier League with Norwich.

There will be those who point out that Norwich came straight back down and that Neil was dismissed by the Canaries after he was unable to guide them straight back up.

Probably the odds were against them surviving more than a season in the Premier League, that the reality for many clubs going up from the Championship.

Perhaps where Neil will have to repair his reputation in some critics’ eyes, is last season’s events.

After a strong-enough start, Norwich began to wobble in the autumn.

Ironically, PNE’s 1-0 win at Carrow Road in October was the first of five defeats on the bounce in the league.

Neil likes his side to play football and Norwich found the net often last term.

They scored 85 goals in the Championship, 61 of those coming with Neil at the helm.

Preston found more of a scoring touch last season and that is something for Neil to build on.

A phrase he used several time during the course of the press conference was ‘young and hungry’ players.

Neil has a good core of them to work with at PNE, Ben Pearson, Jordan Hugill, Tom Barkhuizen, Callum Robinson, Daryl Horgan and Josh Harrop to name but a few.

Peter Ridsdale and Trevor Hemmings are clearly very comfortable in putting the further development of those players in the hands of Neil.

The manager seemed to state that more shopping in that younger end of the market could follow.

Two more already in the bag but who he has yet to meet, are Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor.

The Cork pair will become Preston players on July 24 and no doubt will get the chance to say hello to their new team-mates over the next few days when PNE train at nearby Fota Island.

Maguire will come as the headline act of that duo by reason of his position up front and his form for the Irish side.

Not content with almost being at the 20-goal mark in the League of Ireland,the striker netted a hat-trick in Cork’s Europa League tie with Levadia Tallinn on Thursday night.

The Estonians might not be Europe’s best opposition but let us not sniff at a hat-trick in a major competition.

It is a major step-up from the League of Ireland to the Championship but the gap can – and has been – bridged by many players.

Given the necessary time to adjust to the training over here and to the physical nature of the division, Maguire could well blossom.

His arrival is one to look forward to.