Dave Seddon's pressview
Covering a football club is never dull and 2016 has seen plenty happening at Preston North End.
The Lilywhites play their 51st and final game of the calendar year against Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale, the 50 played to date in league, FA Cup and EFL Cup yielding 21 wins, 12 draws and 17 defeats.
It has been 12 months of steady progress in my book, a competitive squad being assembled with younger players at its core, mixed with some more experienced heads.
There have been ups and downs, twists and turns, headlines for the right reasons and one very public misdemeanour which had Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle trending in the football world – more of that later.
In this final column of the year before we link arms and welcome in 2017, I will pick out a few highlights, a couple of moments to frown upon, and throw in a couple of funnies which have popped up.
With regards to North End’s best performers of 2016, Greg Cunningham and Ben Pearson have run one another close, with Chris Maxwell and Callum Robinson also in the frame. Cunningham won the player of the year award in May which covered last season and has carried that form into the current campaign.
In terms of consistency, he is a seven or eight out of 10 most games, his free transfer signing from Bristol City looking more of a bargain with each game he plays.
The left-back wins my goal celebration of the year award for when he found the net against his former club at Ashton Gate back in January.
These days, the trend is to take things coolly in such circumstances, let your team-mates do the celebrating.
When Cunningham scored with a diving header against the Robins, off he set at a pace Usain Bolt would be proud of in the direction of Steve Cotterill, the manager who had been happy to let him leave.
Only team-mates jumping on him to share his joy prevented a closer meeting between Cunningham and Cotterill, which was probably best all around!
Pearson has emerged these last few months as a major cog in Preston’s works, reviving himself almost.
He looked decent enough after arriving in January from Manchester United, putting in some honest shifts last season without setting the place alight.
For the first few weeks of this term, Pearson could not get a look-in though.
Bournemouth away changed that, an evening on the south coast by the sea doing wonders for several members of the North End squad. Simon Makienok got the plaudits by scoring a hat-trick, however Pearson beavered away in midfield and earned himself a place on the bench against Wigan the following game.
An energetic cameo role in that led to a start at Birmingham and he has not looked back since.
Between the posts, Maxwell has seized his chance since Bournemouth and imposed his sweeper-keeper style on the defence.
Boxing Day might not have been his finest hour but his performances have generally been of a high standard.
Robinson deserves some credit too. He probably was not high on too many supporters’ wish lists when it came to bringing him back to Deepdale in the summer.
Fair play to him, he’s started all but two of the league games this season, operating either up front or on the wing.
A work in progress with plenty of promise, the fact Robinson has signed permanently rather than being on loan seems to be helping him.
The occasion of 2016 for me, had to be April’s 2-1 win over Blackburn at Ewood Park.
To see more than 7,000 North End packed behind the goal was a fine sight, the victory their first on Rovers territory since 1979.
Joe Garner’s chicken dance and the Alan Shearer arm in the celebration by Jordan Hugill was all part of a fun afternoon.
Not far behind as an occasion was October’s home win over Aston Villa.
Yes, Villa were struggling at the time, but to put a team of that stature to the sword was impressive to say the least.
Norwich away too was some afternoon, a win against all the odds achieved with a game plan executed to the letter.
On the flip side of the coin, we have had to endure the painful hammerings at Brentford and Newcastle - when things have gone belly-up, they have tended to in some style. Bad boy of the year has to go to Beckford for his red cards against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.
The striker has hit the self-destruct button in those two games, clashing with team-mate Doyle and then kicking out at Kyle Bartley.
I can only assume an element of frustration has got the better of him, that seeing him cross the line in such an unacceptable way.
Beckford has already lost some supporters and won’t win their hearts back, football a fast moving business in which past heroics can be forgotten.
There was much sympathy when injury robbed him of much of last season but there will be no such feeling of good will as he sits suspended on the sidelines for the next four matches.
On a lighter note, the Golden Raspberry award of 2016 goes to those who operate the motorways of this fine country, or rather those who reduce the carriageway to one lane, shut junctions and plan the most awkward of diversions.
Such cunning plans are typically put into place specially for midweek away games, turning a routine journey home into an extraordinary feat of orienteering.
Coming home from Birmingham in September, we were treated to the delights of the mean streets of Walsall thanks to three junctions of the M6 being shut.
And what a treat the highways and byways of Warrington, Leigh and Haydock were on the return journey from Nottingham Forest the other week.
Finally, it would be amiss of me not to tell a story from the ‘mixed zone’ press area at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.
Several reporters grabbed a word with Simon Makienok – still in full kit – after he had headed North End’s stoppage-time equaliser.
Makienok stands out doesn’t he? At 6ft 7in, with more tattoos than Jack King and sporting a blonde crew cut, he is one of the most recognisable players in the PNE team.
Not so for one reporter who after holding his Dictaphone under Makienok’s nose for five minutes, turned to one of his colleagues and askedm ‘Who is that’?