Adam Lord’s Preston North End press view: Time for youngsters to shine

Lukas Nmecha came with a big reputation from Manchester City but is still finding his feet in the Championship with Preston North End
Lukas Nmecha came with a big reputation from Manchester City but is still finding his feet in the Championship with Preston North End

All good things come to those who wait, or so the old saying goes.

Preston North End’s transfer policy of buying potential and rough diamonds means that there needs to be a degree of patience from both inside and outside of the club with some signings.

Someone from the lower leagues or a player who is dropping out of a Premier League academy will take time to get used to the cut and thrust of the Championship.

Look at Lukas Nmecha. The Manchester City youngster’s arrival at Deepdale was heralded as a major coup, the 19-year-old coming with a burgeoning reputation.

Alex Neil didn’t shy away from it himself.

“I believe we have signed one of the brightest centre-forwards in the country at his age group,” the PNE boss said in the club’s press release lauding the capture of Nmecha.

His CV is certainly an impressive one

Scored against Bayern Munich in pre-season? Check.

England Under-21s international? Check.

Deal signed off by Pep Guardiola himself? Check.

But the reality is that the teenager landed in Lancashire with just a couple of Checkatrade Trophy games and a few substitute appearances for City’s first team to his name.

Sean Maguire’s injury meant he was chucked straight in at Swansea and like his team-mates grew into the game as PNE lost 1-0 in South Wales.

With Louis Moult for competition, Nmecha kept his place against Stoke, Norwich and Derby.

His influence has been limited but a lot is being expected of a player who is in reality still very raw.

His qualities are evident. There is a good turn of pace and impressive strength and power for a player who most likely still has some growing to do.

It is his decision-making that has let him down in the heat of the battle.

In academy football the German-born frontman would get away with taking on the extra man, trying a trick or shooting when he should give the ball to a team-mate in a better position.

But it is those moments that can be decisive in the Championship, as PNE have found to their cost in the opening weeks of the new campaign.

He will learn but doing it on the job is easier said than done.

As well as impatience, another problem with young players can be the weight of expectation.

Brandon Barker’s two starts in the League Cup have resulted in two fine goals.

The low drive from distance against Morecambe in round one ended up proving to be a mere appetiser for his stunning solo goal against Leeds on Tuesday night.

His appearances in the Championship have been limited to fleeting cameos off the bench as Neil eases him in.

After the winger grabbed the headlines at Elland Road, Neil pointed a serious hamstring injury Barker had during his time with Hibernian last season as to why North End are treading carefully with their other City talent.

Fans will want to see more of Barker after his League Cup exploits but it may still be a slow process.

Also given it is his first season at this level, don’t expect those kind of heroics week in, week out, when he does inevitably get a run of games.

Consistency is another thing that all young players strive for as they make their way in the game. What is clear however is that like Nmecha, Barker has some major upsides.

A direct runner with pace to burn his main aim seems to be to beat his full-back, a throwback to wide players of old in some respects.

Whatever your opinions of the City pair thus far, the best from both of them is still very much to come.

It’s a tricky balance for Neil.

North End are not spending the big money of some other clubs striving to make it to the Premier League and why that’s the policy is another debate for another day.

Ready-made arrivals are therefore harder to come by and these up-and-comers will take weeks – maybe months in some cases – to bed in.

Look at Josh Harrop, he looks to have kicked on massively in the opening weeks of the campaign after a stop-start first season with PNE. But the reality is, and Neil knows this better than anyone, that his primary role is not to develop talent but to pick up results on a Saturday afternoon and a Tuesday night.

They haven’t been what was hoped for so far in the Championship, something that North End will look to remedy when Bolton Wanderers visit Deepdale in the final game before the international break on Saturday.

Paul Gallagher’s return from suspension will be a big boost to those young players, experience of his kind vital in a squad that has so many fresh faces.

He will take the place of Ryan Ledson, who starts his own ban after dangerous tackle on Leeds’ Lewis Baker.

Like Nmecha, Barker and others, Ledson will learn as he settles in.

Neil though, needs his prospects to do it quickly.