Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: A glimpse into the future?
Are we seeing a changing of the guard within the Preston North End squad, a glimpse perhaps of things post-January transfer window or the lay of the land next summer?
By a combination of injury and choice – accident or design – the Lilywhites team has had a different look about it of late.
Injury kept the two Bens, Davies and Pearson, at home for Wednesday’s victory at Queens Park Rangers and could well do again for the trip to Huddersfield.
Daniel Johnson only made his return from a groin injury at QPR, that his first taste of Championship action this season.
We haven’t seen Darnell Fisher since he scored his first goal in PNE colours at Norwich last month.
Paul Gallagher, probably as expected, has had a diet mainly of Carabao Cup football so far – just the one substitute’s appearance in the league.
We know for certain that like any manager, Alex Neil would have wanted the choice to be able to call on Davies, Pearson and Fisher, just as he would with Johnson before he got back this week.
What their absences have done is provide others with their chance, given them an opportunity to show what they can do.
Neil refers to it as a move into another phase in terms of the look of the PNE squad in his 39 months at the helm.
Brad Potts, Ryan Ledson, Joe Rafferty and to an extent Jordan Storey, have been the beneficiaries of the absence of others.
Potts had started the last three league games, four in total this season.
Ledson has started all six, while he started five of the final six matches of last season – he came on at the interval in the one he was on the bench for.
Rafferty has started four of the six league games, with Storey starting three.
Davies, Pearson, Johnson, Fisher and Alan Browne as we all aware are in the final eight months or so of their contracts.
We often refer to the ‘big four’ on the contract situation, Fisher not seemingly put in the same bracket for whatever reason.
Although hopeful that there can be breakthroughs on the contract front with some of the four, Neil accepts he has to at least consider life without them.
Neil said it would ‘negligent’ of him not to think along such lines.
That’s not to say those who have stepped into the side haven’t deserved to be given a chance.
Ledson has probably been PNE’s most consistent performer since the restart.
He didn’t start the first three games after the resumption in June, Neil even acknowledging at the time that was harsh bearing in mind how good he had looked in training.
His chance came in that bore draw against this weekend’s opponents Huddersfield and Ledson hasn’t looked back.
Potts scored twice at the end of last season having upped his game just before March’s lockdown.
Then in came Storey for a run of games in the closing stages of the campaign.
Rafferty had been PNE’s stand-in left-back for the first half of the season before more of a chance on the right came after the restart.
Just on Rafferty, things can change quite quickly in football.
The fact he’s not the most attacking of full-backs got highlighted in the wake of the Cardiff defeat, one in which PNE were blunt to say the least going forward.
Three days later at QPR, statistics website Whoscored.com had him down as Preston’s best player and Neil name checked him post-match.
Back to the big four and ahead are a few key weeks in terms of their futures.
The opening of the next transfer window is just 10 weeks away, time which will fly by as we get into the pattern of playing every weekend and midweek.
If new deals haven’t been agreed by then, January is the last time to sell.
That chance might yet have gone should anyone choose the route of signing a pre-contract agreement to cross football borders.
By the law of averages, I’d be surprised if North End managed to get all four signed on new deals. Likewise, I’d be slightly surprised if they lost all four by next summer.
Back to happenings on the pitch and the win at QPR couldn’t help but put a spring in the step.
Two PNE players scoring penalties in the same game has been done before but not too often.
Daniel Johnson and Scott Sinclair are the fourth pair in a Preston shirt to do so.
Johnson and Gallagher did it in last season’s 3-3 draw with Bristol City. It was Gallagher who took the first one that afternoon.
In 2010, Callum Davidson and Paul Hayes both stepped up in the 5-0 win at Stockport in the League Cup.
The year before in a 2-1 derby victory over Burnley, Davidson and Neil Mellor converted from the spot.
In Johnson’s case, hopefully we will be able to continue seeing his penalty taking beyond this season.