Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: Return of Preston reserves is a good move

Preston North End resurrecting  their reserves and entering the Central League after several years away can only be seen in a positive light.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 4:45 pm

A second string playing in a competitive division is something the Lilywhites have been missing for a number of years.

It was announced on Thursday that they would be re-entering the Central League, Paul Gallagher and Steve Thompson tasked with the job of running the side.

Fleetwood, Morecambe, Huddersfield, Carlisle, Bolton, Accrington and Walsall are the teams PNE reserves will be competing against in league and cup action in 2021/22.

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Former North End favourite Iain Hume, right, in reserve team action at Deepdale in 2011

It’s minimal travel, no more than a couple of hours in any direction, with games scheduled for the afternoon.

North End supporters have long asked why there was no reserve team.

Cost was an issue, with resources diverted to the first-team instead.

For a spell, it was just as easy to organise a bounce game to get game time for players than it was to play in an organised league.

There was more flexibility too, practice matches fitted in alongside training schedules.

Covid made that more difficult last season, almost impossible in fact.

Bringing another team into a training ground bubble was frowned upon and the chances of a game for those not playing first-team football, dried up.

Entering the Central League will mean those in need of a top-up have games scheduled roughly a couple of times a month.

Importantly from PNE’s point of view, it will help the development of their younger players.

There hasn’t really been a development path between the academy and first-team squad in recent seasons.

Lads nearing the end of their scholarships had to be far enough on in their development to push for a first-team squad place or they fell at the final hurdle.

There was no middle ground, no team to play in regularly to push them on and play men’s football.

Players tend to develop at different stages, some catch the eye early, others are slow burners.

Many footballers have been shown the door by clubs, only to pop up elsewhere and prove their former employers wrong.

This year North End have a number of younger players for who games in the Central League could be so beneficial.

Four lads were taken on as first-year pros in the summer – Lewis Coulton, Jacob Holland-Wilkinson, Joe Rodwell-Grant and Oliver Lombard.

Lewis Leigh, a second-year scholar, has had plenty of game time in pre-season, while first years Noah Mawene and Josh Seary have been involved.

Slightly older than that group are Ethan Walker, Jack Baxter and Adam O’Reilly.

There will be others doing their scholarships who could play in the reserves.

Then of course you have players on the fringes of the first-team squad for who a midweek game in a quest for match sharpness wouldn’t go amiss.

I might be a year or so out, but I’d say North End were last in Central League action in 2011/21.

They won the area league they played in that season when Pontins were the sponsors and more teams were involved.

I remember being at Deepdale for a 2-0 win over Morecambe on a Monday afternoon which sealed them the title.

Graham Westley had been here for a few months, with Jeffrey Monakana playing as a trialist that day – he would later sign from Arsenal.

Going back many years before that, the Central League was a regular part of a my football watching.

When I first started going to PNE in the mid 1970s, the reserves played on a Saturday.

If the first-team were away, the reserves would play at Deepdale.

The Central League had some big-hitters then, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton fielding their reserves.

In the days of teams only having one substitute, there were plenty of good players needing a run out in the reserves – or the ‘stiffs’ as they were commonly referred to.

You’d often find players who would play almost a full season of reserve football with only the occasional call to the first-team squad. The standard was pretty good.

When North End were promoted in 1977/78 under Nobby Stiles, they needed Peterborough to lose or draw at Wrexham in a game after the official end of the season.

Preston reserves played the same afternoon at Deepdale, it attracting a larger attendance than normal as fans waited for news from Wales.

As the years went on, reserve football started to become more of a midweek game.

In the 1990s under John Beck, a big push was made by PNE to get fans going to reserves games again.

A visit by Manchester United’s second string was to attract a gate of 9,000.

In the coming months it might be a few hardy souls stood by the pitch at Euxton watching the Central League action.

For those on the pitch, the 90 minutes of action could important – match action under the belt or another small step along the road to developing into a pro.

North End had not long since revealed the return of the reserves, when they took a call from Manchester United in which Saturday’s friendly was cancelled due to positive Covid test in the Red Devils squad.

The pre-season friendly Gods have not smiled kindly on PNE have they?

Bamber Bridge rained off and moved, away supporters stopped from travelling to Scotland, Covid forcing the Manchester City behind closed doors and now the virus curtailing United’s visit to Deepdale.

The United game had been in the planning since May, with it meant to be heralding the return of fans to Deepdale. Health had to come first here, best wishes to those affected.

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