Preston North End reporter Dave Seddon’s five-point plan to get the Lilywhites back on track and rising up the Championship ladder.
1. Stating the obvious but Preston need to get their strikers into goalscoring form.
Joe Garner, Stevie May, Eoin Doyle, Will Keane and Jordan Hugill have yet to find the net in a league game.
The Lilywhites’ seven league goals have all been supplied from midfield.
While it is encouraging that goals are coming from the engine room, they have to be in addition to what the front men are supplying and not the main supply line.
Their cause has not been helped by the long-term injury to Jermaine Beckford, scorer of 18 goals last season.
Consistent selection of a front pair will be a priority for Simon Grayson, although he is still without the banned Garner until later in the month and cannot call on Doyle for the Cardiff game.
2. Being able to maintain a consistent level of performance throughout a game will bring its rewards and, in a handful of matches this season, already has done.
Not once have North End been dominated by a side from start to finish – in all games they have had good spells.
Being switched on from start to finish earned them that very creditable goalless draw with Middlesbrough during the opening weekend.
It brought Simon Grayson’s men the 1-0 win at MK Dons and it pushed them so close against Wolves.
During other games though, there have been costly spells of a drop in concentration.
Derby took full advantage of a dip in focus last month, then Brentford did it in the second half of PNE’s visit to Griffin Park.
Likewise, two errors had North End chasing the game against Sheffield Wednesday last week.
Mistakes get punished more regularly at this level, whereas you get away with a bit more the lower down the leagues you go.
With the quality of some players in the Championship, you cannot afford to give them a sniff in and around the box.
Concentration and focus has to be maintained – both as a team and on an individual basis – from the first whistle to last.
3. The return of Paul Gallagher to fitness is potentially a huge boost to North End in their quest to climb the table.
His presence and passing range in midfield, not to mention his Championship experience, has been sorely missed over the last few weeks.
Of course one man does not make a team, but Gallagher is a vital cog in the works.
The 31-year-old might not be the quickest in terms of covering the yards but he gets the ball moving and has speed of thought.
North End were without a win in Gallagher’s absence, his creativity clearly missed.
He was back on the bench for the Sheffield Wednesday defeat but Paddy McCarthy’s early injury, and then the change of both strikers, meant he did not get on the pitch.
That will change for the visit of Cardiff to Deepdale a week on Saturday, Gallagher set for a starting berth.
Could he be the spark to a spell of good form?
4. Preston are top of the Championship table in one respect, namely this season’s disciplinary record.
Three red cards and 28 bookings puts them at the summit of the division’s discipline table.
North End will rightly argue that the red for Bailey Wright was harsh, so too some of the yellow cards which have been waved in their direction. However, keeping on the right side of referees is something to address as the season goes on.
They cannot afford to finish games a man – or two men – shy.
Likewise, a totting up of yellow cards has already cost Joe Garner a ban, while John Welsh is one caution off a suspension.
PNE will not want to take an edge off Garner’s approach, but they need him to avoid falling foul of officials, who are no doubt keeping a close eye on him.
5. Keeping Daniel Johnson fit and in form can only help Preston’s efforts in climbing the table.
DJ has made the step up from League One to Championship with considerable ease.
He has demonstrated an ability to operate effectively in the area between midfield and attack.
The £50,000 bargain buy from Aston Villa tops PNE’s scoring charts with five goals, his left foot supplying them all.
North End do have some good options around him in the midfield, although over time there might be the need for another enforcer in the John Welsh mould.
Johnson is the goalscoring midfielder which every side needs, although others further forward have to step up and be the main supplier of goals.