Dave Seddon's verdict: Accrington 1 Preston North End 1 - Swift impact made by Jamie Thomas but lots of work for PNE to do

'Trialist' made a long overdue return to the Preston North End team sheet for the friendly at Accrington Stanley.

Sunday, 25th July 2021, 8:00 am

It's been some years since PNE have treated us to the game of guess the player in pre-season, listed merely as Trialist when the teams are published ahead of kick-off.

Graham Westley invited a few along in the summer of 2012, while David Moyes used to run the rule over them in the reserves on a regular basis during his time in charge.

In recent seasons though, it has been contracted players all the way at North End.

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Preston North End fans watch their side in pre-season action at Accrington Stanley

That was until Saturday when 'Trialist A' wearing No.34 was listed between Ethan Walker and Josh Seary among the 15 Preston substitutes.

Google and Twitter quickly helped identify him as Jamie Thomas, a player who a fortnight earlier had scored twice for Bamber Bridge against PNE in the opening friendly.

Thomas had elbow-bumped with the Lilywhites squad for the first time as they boarded the coach to head up the M65 to Accrington.

He came on with Brad Potts at the start of the second half and within seven minutes had headed North End in front.

PNE wing-back Tom Barkhuizen looks for a way between two Accrington players

It was one of the few highlights for the visitors in an underwhelming afternoon in East Lancashire, this a game they very easily could have lost to their League One opponents.

Stanley equalised within 15 minutes of Thomas' goal, before Declan Rudd stood between the home side and a winner in the closing stages.

Rudd came out on top of a personal duel with Accy substitute Joel Mumbongo, three times denying him with top-drawer saves.

Thomas was the man who PNE supporters were talking about later though, in a debate on the merits of having a trialist from non-league in the squad.

PNE defender Andrew Hughes goes up with Accrington's John O'Sullivan

The 24-year-old has a league background, doing his scholarship at Bolton Wanderers and then going into Burnley's Under-23s squad.

More recently Thomas stepped away from the full-time game, playing for Squires Gate, AFC Blackpool and latterly Brig, while working as an electrician.

There's no harm in looking, the former Wales Under-19 international catching the eye during the friendly at Euxton in which he scored twice from long range.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. North End will look at him in training in the coming days and take things from there.

PNE striker Sean Maguire tangles with Accrington defender Ross Sykes

Just as long as the shopping list doesn't stop after his name because the Lilywhites still look short up front and need more firepower.

With blistered feet keeping Ched Evans at home, Emil Riis and Sean Maguire led the attack for the first half at Accy.

A switch of approach for the second 45 minutes saw Thomas and Potts play either side of Riis.

Thomas' header aside, North End were blunt going forward.

Their best chances came from set pieces, with service in short supply for Riis and Maguire during their time in tandem.

Too much of their time was spent having to chase balls down the channel, an approach the hosts' three central defenders coped well against.

Eight of Saturday's starters had given Celtic the run around a week earlier but things have gone off the boil in the last two games.

A much different XI started and lost to Bolton in midweek but what you would consider the stronger half of the squad, were ordinary against John Coleman's side.

You would wager that most who had started against Celtic and Accrington, are in line to play the first Championship fixture against Hull City on August 7.

There's still the two Manchester clubs to play either side of facing Wigan this week which might change things slightly, but the direction of traffic in Frankie McAvoy's thinking is there to see.

North End's two best chances of the first half came from set plays, a Ryan Ledson free-kick whipped in from a yard to the side of the box which keeper James Trafford gloved over, then Liam Lindsay's header from another Ledson free-kick which went to high.

Thomas and Potts joined the fray in place of Maguire and Alan Browne, Stanley's one half-time change seeing them swap keepers with Toby Savin taking over from Trafford.

When Tom Barkhuizen got some space to run into down the right channel, he lifted a cross into the middle which Thomas and Savin both moved to meet.

Perhaps the keeper should have stayed home, Thomas getting to the ball ahead of him and a defender to send a header into the net.

Accy's equaliser in the 67th minute was a volleyed finish from Joe Pritchard which got a deflection on the way in, their own trialist - Jack Nolan - supplying the cross from the left.

They should have gone on to win when you consider Burnley loanee Mumbongo thrice saw the whites of Rudd's eyes but on all three occasions the PNE keeper came out of top.

It was last laugh for Rudd at the expense of the home fans behind the goal who spent the second half making observations about his hair and beard.

A fortnight to go until the new season and much work still to be done by North End, on the pitch in terms of their forward play and off it when it comes to the transfer market.

Hats off to Thomas for his quick impact but more is needed besides him.

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