Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview

Greg Cunningham
Greg Cunningham
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When does a makeshift defence stop becoming such and is recognised as having a bit more about it?

Since Preston took to the pitch at The Valley to take on Charlton a fortnight last Tuesday, the word ‘makeshift’ has featured regularly in the conversation.

A three-man defence made up of Calum Woods, Bailey Wright and Greg Cunningham was thrown together for the occasion and have stayed in situ since.

Offering support down the sides in the form of wing-backs have been Marnick Vermijl and Adam Reach.

Behind them has been goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, as good a last line of defence as North End have had for some considerable time.

That bunch have been responsible for keeping four of the five clean sheets which North End have put together, the start of that run having come against Cardiff.

Not just them obviously, with results and performances being a team business. But looking at the back line in isolation, every credit for the impressive list of shut-outs.

Fingers crossed too for more of the same against Queens Park Rangers today.

Will it be that defence and system at Loftus Road?

You would guess so, nine points collected from the last five almost demanding more of the same.

It would be brave for Simon Grayson to change it, even if he does have Paul Huntington waiting in the wings.

Had anyone suggested just under three weeks ago that the defence in its current form would be a regular pick, most probably they would have been laughed at.

Injuries forced Grayson’s hand though, and things have turned out pretty well.

Woods and Cunningham are playing out of position in their central role.

But for the majority of the time, the full-backs by trade have been comfortable either side of Wright.

For me, Cunningham has been the pick of the outfield players recruited in the summer.

Woods will never be box office but is a steady defender and versatile, playing in both full-back roles and now the centre-half berth during his time at Deepdale.

The glue in the middle of the trio has been Wright, a player who seems to have thrived on the extra responsibility given to him of late.

Wing-backs Vermijl and Reach are cut from different cloth in their approach.

Vermijl is more at home as a full-back, Reach is a winger.

For the time being though, they have the task of covering the full line down their respective sides of the pitch.

To date, Vermijl has had a job convincing some of the PNE faithful of his worth, that due to some shaky displays earlier in the campaign.

But from a defensive point of view, he has started the last four games and played a part too as a substitute in the first clean sheet against Cardiff.

The Belgian might not have shone individually, but he has fitted into a system – of that no one can argue.

Options are limited down that right hand side, with Tom Clarke injured – and stronger in the middle anyway – Chris Humphrey is also on the casualty list, while Woods is being kept busy in the middle.

Further up the pitch, it was a relief to see a North End striker off the mark in the shape of Eoin Doyle against Nottingham Forest.

Doyle will score better goals than his second-minute winner in midweek but in putting the ball over the line, he made two monkeys jump off PNE’s back.

His goal delivered the first home league win this season and the Irishman became the first of the club’s strikers to net in the Championship.

They are two statistics we can now stop banging on about and the hope is for talk of strikers scoring to become the norm at Deepdale.

It would be good if Doyle or Joe Garner are able to celebrate a goal or two in the capital this afternoon.

The clash with QPR means another tussle with Neil Warnock, appointed to a temporary head coach role in midweek following the sacking of Chris Ramsey.

How many times have PNE faced a Warnock side? I bet it is running into double figures.

My first experience of him in a reporting capacity was after his Plymouth side were beaten 3-2 by North End in January 1996.

Warnock came into the press box in the old Pavilion Stand at Deepdale, tore a strip off his defence and the referee, wished Preston well and off he went.

How many times has Warnock talked about retiring? Yet here he is at the age of 66, wearing the caretaker jacket once again.