Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview: Common sense to increase number of subs

It was quite refreshing to see EFL clubs seize the initiative this week when it came to the rule change on the number of substitutes allowed in matches.

Saturday, 21st November 2020, 8:00 am

Change tends to come from higher up – from the Premier League – before filtering down to the Championship, League One and League Two.

That was how it was in the spring and summer as English football looked to restart after the lockdown.

Dates for a return to training and the resumption of matches were decided in the top flight and then mirrored below.

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Preston North End substitutes watch the game against Norwich at Carrow Road

The EFL have stolen a march on the Premier League this time with the decision to allow two extra substitutes in games.

From this weekend, Championship clubs can name nine subs on the bench and use five.

In Leagues One and Two, five substitutes can be used from a bench of seven.

The Premier League could yet follow, with some of the big-name managers speaking strongly in favour of increased squads on a match day.

There is some opposition there though, so more debate might be needed.

In the EFL, clubs were worried by the amount of muscular injuries being picked-up over the first two months of the season.

No doubt the forthcoming schedule was looked at too, with the prediction that injury lists were only going to grow.

Preston North End and their fellow Championship play 12 times between now and January 2.

There is only one clear midweek, that in the week before Christmas.

Midweek matches are commonplace in the EFL but the fact this season started six weeks later than normal means a squeezed fixture list and more midweeks.

I cannot recall there being four Tuesday or Wednesday nights league games in a row like what is coming up this month and next.

In past seasons there have been a couple of midweek league games back-to-back, with Carabao Cup ties in among the schedule.

So for clubs to have voted for two extra substitutes in matches seems sensible, not a soft option.

I presume it will be the same rule as in the restart games, that there are only three available slots during the action to make changes.

In the summer matches, teams were not permitted to make five separate changes.

Speaking to PNE boss Alex Neil on the subject at Thursday’s press conference, he envisaged the extra two substitutes being purely fresh legs rather than any clever tactical ploy.

In the nine games after last season’s restart, Neil used all five substitutes in five of the games – Luton, Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest and Brentford.

They had the biggest impact at Wednesday, Scott Sinclair, Jayden Stockley and Brad Potts all scoring in a 3-1 win after coming off the bench.

Neil used four subs against Derby, Huddersfield and Bristol City.

In the 2-0 victory over Birmingham, he limited himself to two changes.

Stockley was Neil’s main go-to change, coming off the bench in six of those nine games.

Potts, Josh Harrop and Sean Maguire joined the action in four of the matches.

Jordan Storey replacing the injured Ben Davies in the 44th minute of the 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest was the earliest sub made by Neil after the restart.

In the same game, Ryan Ledson came on for Ben Pearson at half-time, with all the other changes made in the second half.

Hopefully this season will be the last when the increased number of substitutes are needed.

For that to happen it would need this season finishing on time and the 2021/22 campaign starting as normal.

FIFA allowing five subs covers this season, with it up to individual leagues whether to take it up or not.

There will have been clubs within the EFL who were reluctant to have the extra subs.

It might mean two extra bonuses having to be found at a time when no revenue is coming in.

Spread that over the course of the season and it builds-up.

Away from the substitute theme, and I reported in Monday’s Lancashire Post how fresh contract offers had been tabled in the last couple of weeks by North End to Davies, Pearson, Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson.

It appears PNE have pushed through the current wage ceiling up in an attempt to secure the quartet.

Whether that tempts any of them to put pen to paper, we have to wait and see but the clock is ticking.

January is a key month, that make-your-mind up time.

If there is no indication of a willingness to sign, the January window is the last time to sell – it won’t be a particularly strong hand which PNE will hold in the market by then.

Should it get into cross border moves and pre-contract territory, the chance for a fee might already have gone.

I’d like to think there is still a chance of striking a deal with some of them.

Getting signatures from all four might be asking too much, just on the law of averages.

It could depend on what the players and their agents think they can get elsewhere.

Will the current climate help North End, in that they have put attractive terms of the table?

What state some clubs’ finances might be in by next summer, goodness only knows.

Will there be a stack of clubs queuing up to offer a better deal? Perhaps not.

Neil spoke on Thursday of wanting to ‘realign our best players’ futures with our future’.

In simple terms he wants club and players on the same page, focused on the same targets.

To have four players thinking over their futures at the same time could well become an unwanted distraction.