Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Scott Sinclair assured of warm welcome

Scott Sinclair won’t be short of attention when he returns to Celtic Park in Preston North End colours.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 4:45 pm

He found the net 62 times for Celtic and played his part in three consecutive Trebles in Glasgow during a stay of three-and-a-half years.

Sinclair goes back to face his former employers in a pre-season match, the first time PNE have played at Celtic since the mid-1970s.

Although there will only be 2,000 home supporters in the ground due to the Scottish Government’s restrictions, Sinclair can be assured of a warm welcome, that of a returning hero.

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Scott Sinclair celebrating scoring at Birmingham in January

It is a big season ahead for the 32-year-old and one in which he might have to reinvent himself a little.

Sinclair has yet to really fire at North End. That said, he did finish as top scorer last season. It took nine goals for him to finish top of the pile, not a massive amount by any stretch of the imagination.

He’d got those by the end of February, the ninth that empathic finish against Huddersfield on the end of a swift counter-attack.

It shouldn’t be forgotten too that Sinclair is holder of the goal of the season award for his 40-yarder which sailed over the head of Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

However, he’s still to put together a consistent run of goals and performances in a Preston shirt as he goes into the final year of his Deepdale contract.

The fact Sinclair didn’t add to his goals tally after February 27 could partly be put down to how much time he spent on the pitch.

He did start the five games after netting against Huddersfield but in two of those was substituted at the interval – at Wycombe when PNE were awful and then, at Middlesbrough, Sinclair was sacrificed following a red card for Alan Browne.

Those five games were Alex Neil’s last five at the helm. Frankie McAvoy started him against Norwich, playing at the point of the diamond.

After McAvoy switched to 3-5-2, there were just two sub appearances and one start for Sinclair.

That start came on the final day at Nottingham Forest, playing up front as a central striker.

It’s been in the front two where Sinclair has played in PNE’s first two friendlies.

He was in the first-half team against Bamber Bridge, partnering youngster Joe Rodwell-Grant.

At St Johnstone the other night, Sinclair was paired with Ched Evans for the last 30 minutes.

He’s a certain starter for the Celtic game and should McAvoy stick with 3-5-2, it will be centrally duties again.

Sinclair scored many of his Celtic goals from a slot on the left-hand side of a 4-3-3.

Coming into the box from an angle does seem to be a strength, the clinical finish at Birmingham in January coming to mind.

If the width in Preston’s team is going to come from wing-backs in the main this season, Sinclair will have to fight for a striker’s role.

Looking at the squad in its present form, the attack stands out as the area needing attention.

We will assume Daniel Iversen is coming back at the other end of the pitch, but it is at that top end where PNE must keep looking.

The word from North End has been consistent all summer in that the striker search would take longer than recruitment in other positions.

Nothing seemed to grab their fancy in the Bosman market, the Lilywhites of the view that targets will be more readily available as the pre-season goes on. As Premier League clubs do their shopping and they get players back from their holidays after international duty, that will see those on the fringes of squads become available.

Casting an eye over the other positions, North End are well stocked with defenders, especially at centre-half.

Jordan Storey, Patrick Bauer, Liam Lindsay, Sepp van den Berg, Andrew Hughes and Paul Huntington provide the options in the middle – Hughes so long as it’s three at the back.

Greg Cunningham and Josh Earl have the left-back/wing-back role covered off. That said, Earl has operated in the middle in the two games to date.

Matthew Olosunde and Joe Rafferty are the options at right-back/wing-back, with Van den Berg able to move out there.

It’s worth noting it has been as a wing-back where Tom Barkhuizen has been operating so far.

With McAvoy fielding two teams in the friendlies to start with, there was always going to be an element of mixing and matching.

The midfield is stocked well, albeit Daniel Johnson is on the other side of the Atlantic at the moment playing for Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Also, Alan Browne has yet feature as he is eased back after resting a long-standing injury over the summer.

Up front the options as it stands are Evans, Sean Maguire, Emil Riis and Sinclair. It looks light, hence a bit more is needed.

We will see how the squad performs in what is a very impressive set of friendlies.

By the time July finishes, North End will have played the double Scottish cup winners, the SPL runners-up, the Premier League champions and the second- placed team.

The fact the big clubs aren’t doing as much travelling due to Covid has helped PNE secure the two Manchester clubs. Playing Celtic away would have been a bigger attraction had North End fans been able to attend.

I went to St Johnstone on Tuesday night and enjoyed that. My view from the main stand was a better one than four of the PNE faithful who had made the trip got.

They knew tickets were limited to home fans but chose to go anyway as a sideshow to a decent day sampling a beer or two in Edinburgh and then Perth,

The design of McDiarmid Park with open corners, meant a vantage point from a slope outside the ground offered them a view of a decent amount of the pitch.

That is some dedication, well done fellas!