Preston North End opened their pre-season campaign with a 7-0 win over Bamber Bridge on Saturday.
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Sean Maguire scored a hat-trick while Graham Burke, Billy Bodin, Louis Moult and Josh Harrop were also on target.
On a day where England sealed their place in the World Cup semi-finals, there was plenty to like about the Lilywhites too as they got up and running at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium.
PNE have hit the ground running
Yes it’s a friendly. Yes it’s a Northern Premier League side. But this was good stuff from North End. They played some fine, free-flowing football in the first half as they scored five of their seven goals. The second half was harder work in the final third but by that point the hosts were sitting a lot deeper as they tried to halt the rush of goals. You can’t read too much into games like this but this was easy on the eye from PNE who were anything but sluggish in the intense July heat.
Rest has served Maguire well
Leading that first-half charge was one Sean Maguire. Again the level of opposition has to be taken into account but a 20-minute hat-trick is good to watch on any day. Alex Neil has insisted all along that we’d see the best of the Republic of Ireland international this season and the very early signs are that he’s right. Maguire had a long 18 months as he went from Cork City to Preston to international front man. Throw in a serious hamstring injury as well and he certainly needed to recharge. It could be a big, big season for him in the Championship.
Burke has slotted in seamlessly
Playing alongside Maguire was his Ireland team mate and new recruit Graham Burke. Deployed in the No.10 role, the former Shamrock Rovers man looks to be a very tidy footballer and certainly enjoyed himself playing just off the front. His early goal will give him real confidence, Burke showing good feet before firing home a low shot just five minutes into his PNE debut. Perhaps the most exciting part of his display however was his link up play with Maguire, the pair seeming to have an excellent understanding even at this early stage.
Neil has plenty of options at his disposal
The sight of two different North End XIs in one game gave the best possible indication of what Neil has available to him as things stand. There’s certainly a lot to be positive about. As well as Burke, PNE fans got a first look at fellow new boys Jordan Storey and Andrew Hughes, both of whom looked the part in the second half. It’s good for all strikers to get off the mark which Louis Moult did and Josh Harrop took goal number seven well having been wasteful from the penalty spot moments earlier. As the weeks go on, the front-runners for starting spots will become clearer. Seeing that develop should be fascinating.
Certain players are heading for the exit
While Neil will be pleased with large parts of his squad it is clear some are being readied for a move away. As has been reported in the Post, Marnick Vermijl, Ben Pringle, Andy Boyle, Kevin O’Connor and Eoin Doyle are free to leave Deepdale, either permanently or on loan. That was underlined at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium with none of them involved despite 26 players being named on the team sheet. As well as the new XI in each half, youngsters Connor Simpson, Adam O’Reilly, Michael Howard and Jack Baxter were unsued subs.