Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: Preston edging towards a return in June
Slowly does it but just maybe we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of Championship football restarting.
This weekend’s proposed return to training might have been delayed until later in the month but the plan does seem to be for Preston and their fellow Championship clubs to resume the season in the middle of June.
There is nothing set in stone just yet but training being put back was for all the right reasons, namely putting testing protocol in place at training grounds.
I don’t think we would have got this far down the road without there being a strong willingness to play the season to a finish.
Hopefully we can soon see a halt to the stories doing the rounds about alternative ends to the campaign.
Points per game, weighted points and results up to the half-way stage are just three of the suggestions.
It won’t be too long before ‘three-and-in’, a game of ‘kerby ’ or rock, paper, scissors are put forward as ways of getting finished.
Leagues One and Two might have to find a way to bring everything to a close without the need to step back on to the pitch, although some clubs won’t take that lying down.
The Championship though, looks like it will be played to a finish – the desire to do so is there anyway.
There could well be bumps in the road along the way, remember we are in the grip of a pandemic of a sort not seen in our lifetime.
No one has written a rule book on what to do when a virus stops play, there is no protocol.
Hopefully things can get started up in the safest manner possible to get 2019/20 concluded.
It will be looked back on as the strangest and longest season there has been.
If it can be finished by July 31 which seems to be the will of the EFL, the campaign will have taken three days short of 12 months from start to finish.
Let’s for the moment assume the Championship does resume in June.
There will be plenty of challenges and issues ahead for North End boss Alex Neil and his fellow managers.
If the timetable does end up being a return to training on May 25 and the season resuming on June 13, that’s less than three weeks to get ready.
Bearing in mind by mid June there will have been 14 weeks since the last game on March 7, that is not a lot of preparation time.
A standard summer break is usually eight weeks for clubs not in the play-offs.
Then pre-season training tends to last five or six weeks ready for the big kick-off.
A difference here is that the players will have done more fitness training in the lockdown than they might have done when on their summer holidays.
So perhaps that can mitigate to some degree a shortened time back on the training pitches.#
The remaining matches will have to be approached almost as a mini-season, a nine-game burst.
While normally squads have fresh faces in them when they return after the summer break, this time it will be the same players picking up the baton.
Some players will have coped better than others in the lockdown, maintained their fitness levels that bit better. That will be a consideration for managers as they plan for the first game back.
In terms of the approach of Neil at PNE, will he stick with a selection similar to what he was doing before the shutdown, or tweak it?
North End lost three on the bounce before a halt was called on the season, going back slightly further it was four defeats in five.
Of those last three losses, they never got going against West Bromwich and the 2-0 scoreline was a comfortable one for the Baggies.
They improved in the visit to Fulham but missed chances at key stages were costly and again North End lost 2-0.
When QPR came to Deepdale, PNE tossed away a 1-0 lead to lose 3-1, two of the London side’s goals coming when they had 10 men. Ben Pearson missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but will be available come the restart.
The goals having dried up was an issue for Neil, the last five games having produced only three goals – two of those coming from the penalty spot.
Can they rediscover their scoring mojo, either with a different approach going forward or by change of personnel?
Neil could do with Scott Sinclair finding his feet and starting to show what he did in the first couple of games as a Preston player on a more consistent basis.
There were players who were champing at the bit to get in the side before the season paused.
Joe Rafferty could count himself very unlucky that he hadn’t been getting a game at left-back.
We saw flashes of promise from Brad Potts at Fulham, only for injury to sideline him against QPR.
Decisions, decisions, but oh what a joy it will be to eventually be able to focus on such matters.