Dave Seddon’s pressview: Fans must get behind Preston striker Sean Maguire
Two years ago Preston North End fans were counting down the days for Sean Maguire’s return to first-team action.
Maguire had spent four months on the sidelines recovering from surgery to put his hamstring back together after the muscle came away from the tendon.
Back he came with a weight of expectation on him in North End’s trip to Bolton on March 3, 2018 – Gentry Day that season.
The Irishman was the hero that day, coming off the bench to score twice in a 3-1 victory.
It was part of a burst of five goals in four games from Maguire, showing how much he had been missed in his time out injured.
He scored another goal a few games later, finishing the season with 10 to his name.
That was a respectable figure for a player who had come straight out of the League of Ireland with Cork.
Wind the clock forward to the present day and the level of enthusiasm among the fans for Maguire isn’t at the same level.
Although the 25-year-old is having his best season at Deepdale yet in terms of his fitness, the goals have rather dried up.
It is a stick some want to beat him with and when Maguire was on media duty on Thursday ahead of the Fulham game, he himself admitted the goals being a trickle rather than a flow was something which deeply frustrated him.
He started the season well with three goals in his first six appearances, a statistic which should not be forgotten even by his sternest critics – and there seem plenty of them.
Those goals came in a trio of victories, Maguire giving PNE early leads against Wigan and Brentford.
Then he notched the winner against Birmingham at St Andrew’s in September.
However, Maguire had a 12-game wait until finding the net again, that coming against Fulham in a 2-1 win at Deepdale.
He likes playing Fulham, he’s got three in three against the Londoners.
That goal on December 10 which set North End on their way to victory was the last time the Republic of Ireland international scored for PNE.
Understandably the lad is anxious about it and so are the supporters.
I have found the stick he’s been getting, or how it is delivered, rather unedifying.
I’ve no issue with those who criticise a lack of goals and question whether his place should go to someone else in the squad.
They are natural observations, they would be made at most clubs about players in that situation.
But some of the critisim on social media – admittedly from just a handful – has been rather over the top.
It has gone beyond folk wishing Alex Neil would go for an alternative, it’s got personal and a bit nasty in a couple of cases.
One tweet which popped up once the teams had been announced at West Brom on Tuesday night, was wishing injury on him.
What is that all about for heaven’s sake? A big strength of North End over the last few years, both under Neil and Simon Grayson before him, is the togetherness.
If players are reading that about their team-mates – and they do read it – what are they going to think?
Footballers have no issue with being criticised , it comes with the territory.
But why the need for some to take it beyond that and turn it into some personal tirade?
The majority of Preston fans will be willing Maguire on to find his scoring form.
His work-rate is high and it’s not through a lack of effort that the goals have dried up.
In his first two seasons with North End, Maguire had his hamstring injury issues to contend with.
He still managed to find the net in between his spells on the sidelines – 10 in that first campaign as I mentioned earlier, three last year in a season which didn’t get going until after Christmas.
Okay, three wasn’t great last season but they all came in wins – against Norwich, Millwall and Birmingham – and counted for plenty.
What Maguire will be aiming to do, with the help of manager Neil, is marry together goals and being injury free.
After that long absence in his first season and then two hamstring issues last season, he’s been fit and available since January 2019.
This season, he has started 29 Championship games and come off the bench on four occasions.
The two league games he didn’t feature in was due to concussion and an eye injury at the end of August.
So he is a player who Neil clearly trusts to do a job, either coming inside from the left or up front.
As we have discussed, Maguire is not everyone’s cup of tea but Neil sees him as a key component to the system and comes to that conclusion after working with him every day.
It might be that Neil looks at someone else instead of him, decides in a game there is a better option.
At West Brom it wasn’t a case of Neil choosing Maguire over Jayden Stockley who had a strong case to start after helping turn the Hull game – it was David Nugent over Stockley, with Maguire playing wide.