Adam Lord takes a look at Preston North End’s 2-1 defeat to Fulham on Saturday
Joe Garner is still firmly part of PNE’s plans
All the talk pre-match was of Rangers’ reported interest in PNE front man Garner. The Glasgow giants were talked of as possible suitors for the former Carlisle man a few weeks ago, only for the speculation to die down. Now it has returned, and is that little bit louder with Simon Grayson confirming post match that the Gers had been in touch about Garner. The attraction of a move to Ibrox is obvious, a massive club and the chance to become a hero north of the border as Rangers look to make an impression on their return to the top flight. That’s the thinking that saw Joey Barton leave Burnley’s Championship-winning side to be one of Mark Warburton’s summer signings. What happens next, no-one knows but the fact that Grayson stuck with his number 14 against Fulham suggests North End very much want to keep one of their main men.
Midfield shape needs looking at
There was plenty of debate ahead of the game about how Simon Grayson’s midfield four would line up. It ended up being a flat four with Paul Gallagher and Ben Pringle wide of Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson, rather than the other option, a diamond. It didn’t quite work with Gallagher and Pringle always and naturally, having a tendency to tuck in. Not only did that mean there was often no option out wide as PNE looked to launch an attack but it also left the full backs, especially Liam Grimshaw, exposed. The flat four would seem more suited to natural wingers, which PNE lack. It did however improve with the introduction of Callum Robinson, who did his cause no harm coming on as a substitute in the second half. The former Aston Villa man took his goal well and played more as a wide man, which suited the system.
PNE could look for more bite in centre field
The other midfield debate for Grayson is who gets the nod in those midfield spots. Again the depth in that area was demonstrated by the fact there was no room for both John Welsh or Ben Pearson in the match-day squad. What the PNE midfield had on Saturday was four ball players and perhaps there might be room down the line for more of a ball winner. Browne is all-action but not a natural sitter or destroyer in the middle of the park while Gallagher has played a deeper role in a diamond but as a playemaker, rather than a traditional sitter. On several occasions on Saturday there was a bit of a soft centre to North End, with central defenders Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright exposed.
Slow starts need to end
It’s two defeats out of two for North End and both have been dogged by slow starts. Grayson’s men were dominated in the opening period at Reading, Jaap Stam’s side having 82 per cent of the possession. Improvements after the interval, and a late siege, weren’t enough to snatch a point however. Saturday’s first half performance against Fulham wasn’t particularly bad but still lacked a certain verve and goal threat. Again, there were more positive signs in the second 45 minutes with North End rightly feeling they’d done enough to snatch a point from two goals down, especially given Jermaine Beckford’s goal was wrongly chalked off for offside late on. Things would be far more straightforward though if PNE weren’t having to come from behind every week. Grayson will be hoping that trend changes sooner rather than later.