Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: Preston fans starved of their festive football fix

Covid-19 has been the Grinch which stole Christmas for many football clubs this year.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 31st December 2021, 4:45 pm

It was an afternoon with the mother-in-law for many football fans on Boxing Day rather than cheering their team on, as postponements piled-up higher than presents under the tree.

A disclaimer at this point, I get on famously with my mother-in-law but I know others might not be so fortunate.

Maybe I’m a little too trusting but I do believe the outbreaks which led to all the postponements were genuine.

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Preston North End Emil Riis shields the ball from Sheffield United’s Jack Robinson – the two teams were due to face each other at Deepdale on Boxing Day

Clubs have to register their lateral flow and PCR test results, so the evidence was there should the Premier League or EFL needed to have delved deeper.

However, situations have arisen this last week or so which haven’t sat right.

To start with, there were some ridiculously late postponement of matches.

Putting local rivalry to one side, both Burnley and Blackburn saw matches called-off just a couple of hours before kick-off.

Burnley’s visit to Aston Villa the Saturday before Christmas, fell by the wayside with their fans either already in the West Midlands or not far away.

On Boxing Day, Rovers supporters were well on their to Hull when that clash was axed.

The late postponements were blamed on when the results of PCR tests came through but more consideration needs to be given to supporters.

If you are the home side, leaving it late in the day to seek a postponement might seem the right thing as you are only saving your fans a short journey.

But think of the away supporters and how many of them had a wasted journey with a stop at the services as exciting as it got.

What I’ve not liked over Christmas is those who have used the Covid situation as a way of pushing their own agenda in terms of workload and potential rule changes.

We knew before all this that some managers are totally against the number of games played at Christmas.

In the build-up to Christmas, there was talk of the Premier League postponing the round of games between Christmas and New Year.

An argument was put forward that it would help stop the Covid spread.

Yet they were still happy to play on Boxing Day which was more immediate.

If they were so determined to stop the spread, better that Boxing Day fall by the wayside and action resumed after that?

Being cynical, could I suggest it was a way of planting the idea of no games in the Premier League on December 28/29 in future years?

If that scenario does come to pass, another date in the fixture list has to be found for that round of matches.

Then there will be some whinging that there are too many midweek games.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been banging the drum for more substitutes, to go from the three currently allowed up to five.

It has so far been resisted by the majority of the other Premier League clubs who see the argument for what it is – it will strengthen the hand of the bigger clubs who have the better depth to their squads.

Some top clubs stockpile players to an incredible degree, in that they’ve got enough for a full team loaned out to other clubs.

If things are so bad, why not delve down and use a couple of younger players to flesh out the bench?

I think it was right that football has tried to carry on rather than have some kind of circuit-breaker.

Yes, plenty of games have been called-off and will be played now on midweek dates in January and February.

But other matches have managed to go ahead and won’t need rearranging.

You hope that if cases have been as widespread as reported, football has had this wave in one big blow and the spike can reduced quite rapidly.

Financially, clubs will have taken a hit from the Christmas postponements.

Take PNE as an example, the Boxing Day clash with Sheffield United had the potential to attract a gate of around 18,000 to Deepdale.

The Blades were due to have 5,000 of their followers in the Bill Shankly Kop.

It would have been Ryan Lowe’s second game in charge, the first having produced a victory which put a smile back on the faces of many of the faithful.

It has been rearranged for Tuesday, January 18, in between the home game with Birmingham and the trip to Swansea.

I’d wager that the away following won’t be 5,000, while the home stands won’t be as busy as they could have been on Boxing Day.

I just hope this Covid spike doesn’t see a widespread return to games played behind closed doors.

Potentially, North End face that scenario twice in January because of the restrictions on gatherings currently in place in Wales.

The FA Cup clash with Cardiff City on January 9 will be played at an empty ground.

On January 22, PNE head further west along the M4 to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea.

If the Welsh authorities keep the current measures in place, it will be another game without paying public.

As we welcome in 2022 and says farewell to 2021, a few reflections on the last 12 months from North End’s point of view.

Two managers left, Alex Neil and then Frankie McAvoy – the latter having had the head coach title.

After a long spell of stability at the helm, with PNE going from February 2013 to March 2021 without a sacking, there were two in a little more than eight months.

It is hoped Ryan Lowe can provide that stability and early impressions have been very positive.

After the recent postponements, Lowe will be looking to make his mark and build on the promise of victory over Barnsley in his one game in charge to date three week ago.