PNE in Numbers: Defensive base can be foundation for success

One of the most pleasing things about the promising start to life under Alex Neil has been the defensive solidity shown.

Friday, 8th September 2017, 9:48 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:44 pm
Preston North End's Paul Huntington and Tommy Spurr celebrate a clean sheet at Leeds.

Known for attacking football, one theory was that we’d bee seeing basketball scores at Deepdale with a new man at the helm.

Many felt Neil would be more Kevin Keegan than Simon Grayson when it came to approaching games.

That thinking was backed up by some less-than-convincing defending in pre-season, especially from set-pieces.

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But ahead of Barnsley making the trip across the Pennines today PNE have conceded just one goal in the Championship so far and that came from the penalty spot in the defeat at Derby.

Two 1-0 wins and two 0-0 draws mean it’s been effective stuff from the Lilywhites in August, the League Cup defeat to Accrington with a much-changed team aside.

Rewind 12 months and the first five league games saw North End concede five goals, not an awful return by any means.

The 5-0 defeat at Brentford was obviously to come shortly after the first international break of the 2016-2017 campaign.

Four clean sheets out of five thus far is an excellent start for Chris Maxwell and the defence but Preston are no strangers to strong starts at the back. This is the first time PNE have only let in one goal over the first five games but in 2015-2016 the tally was just two.

In 1994-95, it was just two goals against in the first six matches under Gary Peters in Division Three.

A real delve into the archives throws up the 1901-02 season.

Three goals were conceded by North End in the opening-day game with West Bromwich Albion but then Preston kept six clean sheets on the bounce.

At the other end, Neil has made no secret of the area where there’s room for improvement, a better return in front of goal.

Jordan Hugill’s winner against Reading is the only goal from open play, Daniel Johnson’s penalty against Sheffield Wednesday the other goal Preston have scored this season.

With some better decision-making and a bit more of a ruthless edge the excellent return of eight points could have been even higher.

The return of just two goals matches the start to the 2007-08 season, a campaign that ended with a 15th-place finish in the lower half of the Championship.

If PNE can get things going in the final third then they really could be a force in the second tier this season with another busy month kicking off at Deepdale this afternoon.