Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: There were positives to come from post-lockdown campaign

Preston North End’s return after football’s lockdown didn’t produce much joy as they struggled to find their form and missed out on the top six of the Championship.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 1st August 2020, 8:00 am

The positives which did come to the fore were the displays from a trio of players who emerged from the squad fringes to play a part.

Jordan Storey, Ryan Ledson and Brad Potts notably, with Storey and Ledson really coming from nowhere in terms of use pre-lockdown.

Potts had been in and out of the side, racking up 27 appearances before the end of February – quite a few of them off the bench.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Ryan Ledson in action against Bristol City in the final game of the season

He’d started some big games, Leeds and West Bromwich Albion at home for example, Manchester City in the League Cup.

Remember too, Potts was in the starting XI on the opening day of the season at Millwall, almost a year ago – how times flies.

Nevertheless, he hadn’t got a proper run in the side, no time to build any form of consistency into his play.

For Storey and Ledson, they’d been right out on the fringes.

Storey had been used only a few times – mainly in the cups – having to play second fiddle to first-choice pair Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies.

Injuries to those two in December gave Storey and Paul Huntington their chance.

Over Christmas when Bauer was ill, Huntington got the nod rather than Storey to step in.

Likewise after lockdown when Bauer took a while to find his feet, Huntington came in against Derby.

Storey’s big return came at Sheffield Wednesday when an extra centre-half was needed in a three-man back line, Huntington’s retrospective red card from the Derby game ruling him out for three games.

Storey flourished and looked like the player who had won the young player of the year award the season before – his first campaign at Deepdale after joining from Exeter City.

Ledson had been forced to be content with the role of understudy to Ben Pearson.

In 2018/19 he got plenty of chances due to three red cards for Pearson.

Mind you, Ledson himself was sent off twice, with the four-match ban from the second of those partly carrying over into this season.

With Pearson keeping his nose a lot cleaner, Ledson very much had a watching brief from the bench or a seat in the stand.

His route back into the team actually came alongside Pearson rather than as his replacement.

Alex Neil decided to stiffen the midfield for the trip to Huddersfield and had both holders in there.

It was repeated for the next game at Sheffield Wednesday before Ledson unluckily missed out on a start against Nottingham Forest.

By half-time he was back in the frame though, a knee injury suffered by Pearson giving him his chance.

Pearson didn’t play in the remaining three games, giving rise to Ledson’s best run all season.

When the 2020/21 season starts in six weeks, Ledson, Storey and Potts will be wanting to be in from the start, they won’t see their roles as being squad men.

The way Storey finished the season, it would be so hard for Neil – providing he is still here – to overlook him.

Should North End keep Davies away from admiring eyes in the Premier League, that would mean healthy competition at the back.

A switch of formation to three at the back would accommodate all three.

Should Davies be on the move, you have a natural replacement in Storey, albeit he’s not left-footed.

Would you team Ledson and Pearson up on a regular basis? Again, that is dependant on what Pearson does next.

They don’t necessarily need to both play in a holding role – I think both have more to offer going forward.

With North End having the buying model they do, recruiting from the lower divisions and developing them, inevitably it means some will move on as they catch the eye and the bigger clubs come knocking.

That is where you need the succession plan, players ready to come in and pick up the baton.

It will be interesting to see how things develop over the shortened summer break, into pre-season and then the season itself.

The transfer window for everyone stretches for more than three weeks beyond the start of the season.

Then on top of that there is another fortnight when EFL clubs can trade on the domestic front.

The selection issues discussed here are, as things stand, the domain of PNE boss Neil.

I add the ‘as things stand’ tag following speculation this week linking Neil with the head coach vacancy at Bristol City.

A flurry of bets placed on Thursday saw Neil made favourite for the post by the bookmakers.

It won’t be the biggest of books for a Championship head coach vacancy and it doesn’t take much for odds to rise and fall.

We’ve been here before with Neil, following the attempts of West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City to lure him away. That was firm interest, both getting as far as knocking on the door.

How far Bristol City’s interest goes, we will find out in time.

Neil is the fourth or fifth person to have been the ‘favourite’ in the past few weeks since the sacking of Lee Johnson.

If there was to be something in this beyond the bookies, would it be a dream move for Neil or a sideways step with a view to it opening up more for the Scot?

In the five seasons the clubs have been in the Championship since being promoted together, North End have finished higher in four of them.

That doesn’t get you any prizes but shows that the Lilywhites have squeezed more out of their resources than the Ashton Gate outfit have done with their greater budget.