It should have been PNE setting the pace, not Wolves says midfielder

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Preston North End have certainly caught the eye in the opening couple of months of the season.

Alex Neil’s side sit fifth in the Championship after 12 games having more than matched some of the supposed big-hitters in the second tier.

Ben Pearson in the thick of the action on his return from injury at Fulham on Saturday

Ben Pearson in the thick of the action on his return from injury at Fulham on Saturday

According to Ben Pearson, who has had to watch a large part from the sidelines due to a torn thigh muscle, things could have been even better.

The tough-tackling midfielder returned to the side at Fulham as Preston were only denied three points in the 2-2 draw by Denis Odoi’s 96th-minute goal after goalkeeper Chris Maxwell failed to gather a cross.

The 22-year-old has seen enough, however, to believe that had PNE got what they deserved at Craven Cottage and in other drawn games this season, then they could have been top of the pile.

As it is, North End will look to make another statement when they visit current leaders Wolves on Saturday.

“To be honest I think we’ve been brilliant,” said Pearson, last year’s young player of the year.

“I think the manager has been brilliant since he came in.

“If you’re not behind the scenes you won’t know the work he puts in with the analysis and the tactical side.

“Probably tactically every game we’ve been better than the other team, which has led to the results we’ve had.

“Just the draws have been disappointing when you look at Sunderland, Barnsley, Millwall, Fulham and Middlesbrough.

“Maybe not beforehand but after the game you’re thinking, ‘We should have won the game’.

“Realistically we could have been top of the table if we’d picked up more points in those games.

“We’ve got to be happy with the return we’ve had so far but there’s definitely some scope for improvement.”

All associated with the Lilywhites will be hoping that comes at Molineux with Nuno Espírito Santo’s men many people’s pick for the title and promotion to the Premier League.

They are currently two points clear of Cardiff and Sheffield United at the summit.

Pearson, like his manager, is bullish about PNE’s prospects in the West Midlands however.

“It’s a massive test, probably the biggest of the season,” he said.

“You say that every game though.

“Fulham was probably the biggest test and now Wolves are with them sitting top.

“I think it will be a similar sort of game. They pop it around and have spent a lot of money.

“If you look at our squad it’s probably as good as anyone’s though.

“When everyone’s firing we’ve got a chance this year.”

Pearson’s return after seven weeks out was a welcome one at Fulham, despite his team-mates going six unbeaten in the Championship in his absence.

Neil has made no secret of how key the former Manchester United youngster is to his way of playing, with PNE’s No.4 chucked straight back into action rather than being eased in from the bench.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Pearson, who was replaced by John Welsh on the hour,

“When you get injured it’s not nice and when the team are doing well and you’re not playing it’s frustrating.

“The lads who have come in have done great.

“John has been brilliant and it puts you on the back foot a bit because you realise how much you need to value your place when you are playing, because there are lads who can come in and do an unbelievable job. As soon as I was fit I wanted to be straight back in and the manager put me in,, which showed a lot of faith in me.

“The result was disappointing obviously but it was great to be back out there.

“I was a little reluctant to go straight in because I hadn’t played in six weeks and had only trained for two or three days. At half-time I felt alright but 10 minutes into the second half I was shattered to be honest.

“Sixty minutes was enough but psychologically getting back out there and doing well was a big plus for me.”

Pearson returned with his usual industry at the heart of the Preston midfield and for the first time in his five appearances this campaign did not get on the wrong side of the referee with a yellow card.

After 16 bookings last season there is certainly room for improvement, with one particular area of his game needing to be curbed.

“I had a meeting with the manager at the start of the season and he said the dissent ones need to stop,” said Pearson, who has seen yellow for kicking the ball away at Middlesbrough.

“But he’ll never have a go at me or have a problem with me tackling,” he added.

“In my position that’s key and it’s key to my game.

“I think I’m happy with how I play and bookings come with that.

“I know I said at the start of the season that I need to cut them down but if you look at my bookings this season I don’t think any have been for dissent.

“The second one at Leeds was probably stupid of me, pulling him back like I did. At that stage of the game we were 0-0, he was getting away and I just stupidly thought I needed to take one for the team.

“Looking back on it, in hindsight I shouldn’t have done it.”

The second booking at Elland Road saw Pearson, despite his liking for a card or two, pick up the first red card of his senior career.

It left his team-mates, who had dominated large periods of the game, having to hang on for a 0-0 draw for the final half-an-hour.

That, more than any number of yellows, might be something that changes his thinking going forwards.

“I’ve had a couple in the youth team but as a senior, it was my first red card.” Pearson said.

“It made me aware of the consequences of what I’ve been doing.

“Just being in the changing room during the game and thinking, ‘Don’t lose, don’t lose’.

“Being put in that situation knowing you could let your team-mates down for the first time has made me learn more than 20 bookings in a season.”