Alex Neil did bring some stability, but poor recent form has cost him his job - says Preston fan John Roper
Preston parted company with manager, Alex Neil, with the club in an increasingly downward spiral in this season’s Championship.
Whether that decision will prove to be the right one still remains to be seen as North End face their most crucial final eight games of the season for many years.
Neil came to Deepdale in the summer of 2017 after guiding Norwich into the Premier League and also getting Hamilton Academical promoted in Scotland.
Neil took over at Hamilton at just 32 years old and was a month short of his 35th birthday when he got Norwich promoted in 2016. No wonder then that North End were tempted to appoint the lad from Bellshill at just 36 years old.
Now, just three months short of his 40th birthday it has all gone south for Neil at Deepdale as the football managerial bandwagon rolls once more.
A decent squad was left by Simon Grayson when he left for Sunderland in the summer of 2017 and in his first season Neil took North End to seventh place in the Championship just three points away from taking sixth spot.
Teams below us at that time included Leeds, Norwich City and Sheffield United. How things can change in football in hardly any time at all. The following season. 2018-19 we were going quite well but not quite up to the previous season’s standard. Unfortunately we won just one of the last eight games and finished a disappointing 14th.
Neil had to suffer the fate of every previous Preston manager in having his best players sold and trying to find replacements from lower divisions or on the cheap. The 2019-20 season started well but after Christmas we started to wobble a little, nevertheless we were in sixth position when football, and everything else for that matter, closed down in the middle of March 2020.
Football resumed just under three months later, but North End won only two of their last nine games and ended the season finishing a disappointing ninth. The issues with tactics and team selection were causing more and more debate among the fanbase and as this season started, it was a very much a wait and see situation.
North End had a disaster at home losing the first five league games at Deepdale and it was only the fact that we drew at Norwich and then won at Brentford, QPR, Huddersfield and Reading that gave us a decent points total early on in the season.
As time went by the home record improved slightly but the away record deteriorated a little faster.
The performances, particularly at home were getting worse and worse.
A shocker of a defeat at Wycombe in the cup, with a much changed team, was followed by the manager telling the assembled media that they should now know why these players don’t get selected regularly. Man management and motivation at its worst in my opinion.
It was downhill from then on and by the time we lost 4-0 at Cardiff, missing two penalties, I’m afraid my patience was at an end. North End played a further seven league games before they dispensed with Neil’s services but are now left with eight games to go and at least six points required.
From the club statement it appears the intention is for Frank McAvoy to assume the reins untils the end of the season supported by the current backroom staff. It is 12 days before North End’s next game which is at home to Norwich on Good Friday.
With a trip to Swansea on Easter Monday and Brentford coming to Deepdale on April 10th, it is a really tough start for the caretaker and McAvoy must somehow galvanise his charges to get these points that we so desperately need.
I am old enough to remember us going down in 1981, very unluckily by the way, and it took us 19 years to get back into the Championship.
It has to be said that Alex Neil has brought some stability to the club during his tenure, however that stability is now teetering on the brink and I guess the outcome was always going to be inevitable.
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