Dave Seddon’s Press View: Plenty in reserve for Preston North End

There was a second outing of the season for Preston North End’s reserves and like the first one a month earlier, a strong side was fielded.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 8th October 2021, 4:45 pm

As the campaign goes on it could be that the team takes on a younger look, with all hands on deck needed at first-team level.

But with both matches having come during international breaks, they have presented a chance for PNE to give first-team squad players game time.

Tuesday’s game saw them take on Carlisle United in a Central League Cup group tie, a competition used to flesh out the season.

Josh Murphy – in action as a substitute against Stoke City (above) – did his cause no harm with two goals for the reserves in midweek

As you’ll know, North End were 5-0 up by half-time and the scoreline stayed that way.

The headlines from it were Tom Barkhuizen’s return to action after Covid and two goals for Josh Murphy, yet to start a game after joining on deadline day from Cardiff.

Listen to some on social media who love a conspiracy theory, and Barkhuizen had been locked away out of sight since the opening day of the season because of an interview he gave.

Never mind that the lad had caught Covid, with the after-effects making it a bit of a struggle to get back.

Barkhuizen played 90 minutes in his quest to find full fitness and another run next week should see him back in serious contention for a first-team squad place.

Loan man Murphy took the chance to score twice and stretch his legs after a bench role this last month.

Sean Maguire is having treatment for a hamstring injury at the moment, so there could be a place in the forward line up for grabs next weekend.

Good timing then for Murphy to remind us of what he can do, more importantly give the coaching staff a nudge as to his talents.

It was interesting to keep an eye on two of the players in the PNE team, Jamie Thomas and Joe Rafferty.

Both have their way to the first team blocked at the moment for Championship games by reason of not being in the EFL-registered squad.

That is a difficult position for any player to be in and both probably curse the rule about squad sizes.

Neither of them have been sulking, which was evident on Tuesday afternoon.

Rafferty was solid playing at left-back, not backing down when things became a little heated between him and the young Carlisle substitute in the closing stages.

Having played and scored in the last round of the Carabao Cup against Cheltenham, Rafferty will have his heart set on some kind of involvement when Liverpool visit Deepdale later in the month.

For Thomas, there was a central midfield role next to Brad Potts in a 4-4-2 system.

A bit of everything is needed in midfield within that formation, tracking back and going forward.

Thomas impressed me. Yes ,the opposition was in the main on the young side, but he had a job to do.

He was comfortable on the ball, his passing was good and he hit the bar.

The squad-limit rule has worked against Thomas in terms of involvement in league matches, as it has done Rafferty.

He’s got players ahead of him in the pecking order, hence so far the former Bamber Bridge man has missed the cut.

Thomas has the chance to develop as a player, even at the moment without being able to play in the league.

PNE saw enough to take the 24-year-old on trial in the summer and then to offer him a contract. Training as part of the first-team squad on a daily basis will have pushed him on, steadily his fitness building up to where it needs to be.

Three months ago he was at Bamber Bridge following spells further down the pyramid at Squires Gate and AFC Blackpool.

Fast forward to now and while he can’t play in the Championship currently, there’s the reserves for his continued development.

Thomas and Rafferty only need to look at team-mate Paul Huntington as a source of inspiration.

Until a fortnight ago, Huntington was in the same boat as them – not in the registered squad.

He’s in it now and ready to take his chance if that presents itself.

At things stand, PNE are at the at the 25-man limit for their squad but it could be that they are allowed to take Connor Wickham out.

If indeed a place comes up for grabs, it’s either going to be one of those two or a free agent from outside the club who fills it.

There’s a Lancashire FA Senior Cup tie for North End next Tuesday, then a Central League game on Wednesday.

The first of those two games, which is against Rochdale, is likely to feature Thomas, Rafferty and Co, with a younger group going to Huddersfield for the league match.

On the first-team front, the international break means a weekend off for the players and a chance to get refreshed ahead of a busy second half of October and start of November.

It was disappointing to see North End sign off for the break with the 3-2 defeat at QPR, a game they should not have lost.

Having got 2-1 up, they had a great spell of pressure to get a third goal.

Alas, QPR were to finish the stronger and score twice in four minutes – their winner a bit of a farce from PNE’s point of view.

The talk since then seems to be have been dominated by Blackpool tickets, the lack of them anyway.

Now is the time to park that and focus back on the football – two home games come before the trip along the M55.

The ticket talk can start again nearer to March when the reverse fixture takes place at Deepdale.

Which way North End lean with regard to the away allocation for Blackpool will be interesting.

If they do take the views of the fans on board, as per the statement released this week, there will be a message coming through loud and clear from many of the PNE faithful – a 2,200 allocation to match that given for the October 23 meeting.