Dave Seddon's Preston North End press view: The endgame for Ben Pearson at Deepdale

Ben Pearson’s time as a Preston North End player is coming to a conclusion and in a way no one would have liked it to.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 12:30 pm

It could drift to a finish in the summer without him kicking another ball for the Lilywhites or there might be an exit in the latter stages of the January window if a club is prepared to stump up some cash.

Whichever scenario it is, there will be a parting of the ways to bring to a finish five years of Pearson at Deepdale.

PNE know that they can’t replace him like-for-like and they haven’t tried to do so.

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Preston North End midfielder Ben Pearson

After all, in Pearson they have a player who Alex Neil rates as the best shielding midfielder – a ‘six’ in Neil’s terminology– in the Championship.

What they have done instead is to try and plug the gap in other ways.

Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby have come in to add to the midfield numbers, Whiteman’s a permanent move and Molumby on loan.

Should Molumby impress over the next few months, North End will try and persuade Brighton to sell him to them in the summer.

PNE midfielder Ben Pearson gets a ticking-off from referee Matt Donohue

A desire to start getting their money’s worth for Whiteman and to run the rule over Molumby, will see both playing in midfield ahead of Pearson.

Ryan Ledson will play ahead of Pearson, Alan Browne will, Paul Gallagher will, Tom Bayliss will. For now, Pearson is down the pecking order as the Lilywhites look to the future.

Neil revealed that stance after last Saturday’s defeat at Bristol City.

Pearson was not in the squad which travelled to Ashton Gate even though he’d been back in training after an ankle injury.

Ben Pearson celebrates scoring for PNE against Aston Villa in October 2016

It was when answering a question post-match after Pearson’s fitness that Neil said others were being played ahead of Pearson.

Speaking further on the topic at the start of the week, Neil stressed the player wasn’t being punished by not being picked.

He reasoned that with Pearson having made it clear he wasn’t going to sign a new contract, it was only right for the long-term that he played other players instead.

I think that is the correct decision and I’m sure a lot of PNE supporters will agree.

That is nothing against Pearson who is one of the most popular players among the fanbase.

How can you not like Pearo? The manner in which he plays and what he brings to the team, is so appealing.

The number of yellow cards and sprinkling of reds were annoying but were part of the package. North End are thinking longer-term with sidelining Pearson.

What if they played him ahead of Whiteman or Molumby?

Having paid decent money for Whiteman, having him on the bench for most of the season wouldn’t sit well.

We’ve had that issue with Tom Bayliss, signed for a big fee but with little playing time since.

I’d wager the signings of Bayliss and Whiteman are slightly different – aside from a decent outlay.

Bayliss was one more for the future, Whiteman though, for here and now.

If Molumby doesn’t play, there would be little prospect of him signing in the summer full-time. First impressions of both new midfielders are positive.

On his debut at Bristol City, Whiteman looked safe and assured. Perhaps a bit too safe in the first half before growing in confidence as the game went on.

We had a first look at Molumby in the FA Cup tie at Wycombe, a game even Lionel Messi might have struggled to make an impact in considering how woeful North End were on the day.

He was lively as a sub at Bristol City, then extremely impressive at Birmingham on Wednesday night.

The run he made with the ball to set up Scott Sinclair was just part of an energetic performance on a filthy night in the West Midlands.

Molumby was a popular lad with the Millwall fans when on loan there last season and you can see why.

As for Pearson, let’s not allow these latter stages as a Preston player to cloud our judgement of him.

He knows or is at least very confident that he can get a better deal elsewhere, hence him turning down North End’s contract offer which was a very good one.

It’s a short career for players and he will want to secure the best deal for himself.

It’s five years since PNE paid out £300,000 to sign him from Manchester United.

Two loan spells with Barnsley in League One had caught North End’s eye and the potential was there for him to make the step up to the Championship.

Pearson started steadily at Deepdale, making 15 appearances in the second-half of the 2015/16 season.

The opening few weeks of the 2016/17 campaign were difficult for him though, with him not featuring in the first-team squad.

It was the League Cup win at Bournemouth that gave his PNE career a kick-start.

Not too long after that, he forced his way back into the side, scoring his first North End goal in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa at Deepdale.

Suspension and injury permitting, Pearson has been a regular pick, his role growing ever more key during Neil’s reign.

This season, North End have been without Pearson more often than they’ve had him available.

Two injuries – a groin issue and damaged ankle ligaments – have limited him to eight league starts. So in many ways, PNE have had time to get used to being without him.

His last but one game in the side was December’s win at Bournemouth.

Pearson was excellent that night, controlling the midfield and being rather vocal on the pitch. He was injured five days later in the 2-2 draw against Wycombe.

Never to be seen again in a Preston shirt? The odds on that are shortening but never say never.

If he stays until the end of the season, perhaps a chance will arise if injuries or a loss of form hit.

However, there is an endgame being played here.