Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview: Preston set for big kick-off

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The new football season will start as the last one finished, without fans in stadiums and with a strange feel surrounding it.

Every kick, every word uttered by players and managers will echo round empty stands for a while longer yet.

Supporters will have to add the terms and conditions of their season ticket renewals to their reading list over the coming weeks as they await a return to grounds.

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Welcome to 2020/21 season. It could well be just as strange as the latter months of 2019/20 were.

Preston North End's striker  Jayden StockleyPreston North End's striker  Jayden Stockley
Preston North End's striker Jayden Stockley

The build-up has been somewhat different, well certainly shortened.

A three-week break for the players and then four weeks back at the training ground .

Normally it would be six or seven weeks off on the beach, followed by a six-week build-up.

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So how are Preston North End looking ahead of the big kick-off against Swansea?

The simple answer is just the same as they were at Bristol City on July 22.

There have been no incomings to date and no significant departures.

Those released at the end of their contracts in June went either before the restart or just after the resumption.

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Josh Ginnelly left for Hearts on loan the other week but had been away at Bristol Rovers last season.

We could see David Nugent leave soon but otherwise it is as you were in terms of the squad.

With the transfer window not shutting until the middle of October for EFL clubs, there was always the chance North End could start the season without adding to the squad.

But it is vital the squad is strengthened in the next few weeks and by the time we hit the autumn deadline.

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That was something Alex Neil couldn’t stress enough when he did his Zoom press conference on Thursday.

PNE are currently down to two strikers in Jayden Stockley and Sean Maguire, three if you shift Tom Barkhuizen inside.

Louis Moult will hopefully add himself to that number at some point, however it must be remembered he is on the way back from 12 months out with a badly damaged knee and has to play catch-up.

It is up front where the recruitment needs to be focused, with other areas of the squad looking okay.

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Newly introduced rules on squad size have to be factored in.

Championship squads can carry a maximum of 25 players over the age of 21, plus as many under 21 as they want.

It is not an unreasonable number is it? It allows for two players for every position, three goalkeepers and a couple of others – plus the younger players.

PNE are maxed-out at 25 until Nugent goes, although squads don’t have to registered until the window shuts next month.

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So unless they are looking at the younger end of the market, it could be a case of one in, one out.

North End have proved to be more than competitive in the Championship but now need that extra push to be genuine top-six contenders.

Alex Neil has achieved finishes of seventh, 14th and ninth in his three seasons at the helm.

The missing link is a consistent goalscorer over the full campaign.

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As we know, they don’t grow on trees and aren’t readily available – after all, every club is chasing one.

But if PNE could source someone who gets well into double figures, backed up by a decent amount from others in the squad, they could well push for the play-offs.

Looking at this season’s Championship, I’d put it on par with previous years.

Leeds, West Bromwich and Fulham have gone up, replaced by Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth.

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At the other end, Hull, Charlton and Wigan went down, with Coventry, Rotherham and Wycombe coming up.

Of the three relegated sides from the Premier League, Norwich look the most likely at this juncture to bounce back.

Their recruitment has been good and sensible for this division, and North End will get a close look at them next weekend at Carrow Road.

Watford’s squad looks a strong one but you wonder how the revolving door policy to the head coach’s job will affect them.

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As for Bournemouth, they have lost Callum Wilson to Newcastle and could see some other big-hitters exit before the window.

Those who were in and around the promotion and play-off chase last season will hope to do likewise again.

Brentford are highly fancied to bounce back from their play-off final defeat to Fulham and challenge again.

They banked £28m from the Championship-record sale of Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa on Wednesday, having already brought in a replacement in the shape of Ivan Toney from Peterborough.

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So that’s the ‘W’ gone from the ‘BMW’ forward line, with Said Benrahma tipped for a move away too.

Cardiff and Swansea, who both made the play-offs, and Nottingham Forest who just missed out, will expect to be challenging again.

North End are in the bracket of clubs who were up there and fell away, and will want to be up there again.

Millwall, Derby, Bristol City and Blackburn are four clubs with similar expectations, while Middlesbrough and Stoke are tipped to have better seasons than of late.

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For me, the season will only properly get going when the fans come back.

Whether that is in October or a date beyond, is a decision for Government and its health advisors.

A return can’t come soon enough though. Clubs have worked hard to plan social distancing in their grounds and sell season tickets accordingly.

I just hope we can get through this season without interruption, with some supporters able to see the majority of games.

Football in empty grounds and as an armchair sport cannot be a long term thing.