Preston's on-loan Liverpool centre-back targets more defensive solidity in clash with Nottingham Forest

Preston North End’s run of clean sheets came to a sudden halt against Reading and Sepp van den Berg already has his sights set on putting together another one.

By Dave Seddon
Monday, 21st February 2022, 6:30 pm

Prior to last Saturday, the Lilywhites had shut out the opposition four matches in a row. In fact they had kept five clean sheets in six games.

Lowly Reading were the team to breach that defensive meanness and did so just 75 seconds into the contest at Deepdale.

The Royals went on to score twice more before leaving their own back door ajar twice which allowed North End to fight their way back into the game and come close to forcing a draw.

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Preston North End defender Sepp van den Berg

Centre-half Van den Berg and his team-mates have a quick chance to return to solid ways at the back when they host Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night (7.45pm).

With Forest having won the reverse fixture 3-0 at the City Ground three months ago, PNE will need to be made of sterner stuff this time.

Van den Berg said: “We had a good run of clean sheets so of course it was disappointing for that to end the other day.

“We were confident going into that game because of the results we’d been getting.

PNE's Sepp van den Berg challenges West Bromwich Albion Matt Phillips

“I think conceding so early on killed us, we didn’t settle because of it.

“The third goal came quickly in the second half too, that left us with too much to do.

“There’s no real explanation of why we let those goals in, we know we have to be better.

“Clean sheets have been important to us recently, helped us get to where we are at the moment.

“The manager has given us a lot of information about how to set up at the back, how to press, how to defend.

“As a team I think we have defensively grown into the season, got better and better.

“Now we start again with trying to go on a run of clean sheets.”

Van den Berg might well be tempted to get team-mate Emil Riis’ help in that aim.

He has a little wager with Riis that if the striker hits the 20-goal mark this season, he’ll treat him to a meal out.

So how about Riis doing likewise if Van den Berg and his colleagues at the back get a few more shut-outs?

“I might go and see Emil about that,” said Van den Berg with a smile on his face.

“With Emil, I want him to score as many goals in the Championship and if our little bet helps trigger that, I’ll do my bit.”

Van den Berg has made 53 appearances for North End in his year on loan from Liverpool.

His initial loan for the second half of last season was as makeweight in the deal which took Ben Davies to Anfield.

In the summer he came back in his own right and has featured in every game bar one this season.

The 20-year-old isn’t too sure what the career path is for him beyond the end of this season.

Whatever happens though, he sees his time at Deepdale as being as being valuable both in terms of his development on and off the football pitch.

Said Van den Berg: “When I came here I was quite shy.

“I’m still not one to talk too much in the changing room, I like to relax in there.

“But on the field I’m learning the leadership bit, being louder, talking more.

“After playing 50 games here I’ve matured a bit more.

“I’ve not played as many games as say Alan Browne or Daniel Johnson, so maybe I’m not as loud as them.

“But I still try and talk on the pitch as much as I can to help the team.”

So what might happen come the summer?

“I’ve felt a lot of love from the Preston fans since I came here,” said van den Berg.

“You never know but I reckon after this season it might come to an end here.

“There are still a few months to enjoy it.

“You never know, if we got to the Premier League I might stay here.”

Van den Berg’s immediate focus is on the Forest game, with the visitors going well under Steve Cooper.

They were in the lower reaches when he took the job in the autumn but now sit three points behind the play-offs.

Saying that, Cooper’s men are only two points better off then North End in the Championship table.

“Forest are doing well, they beat Arsenal and Leicester in the FA Cup too,” said Van den Berg. “We’ve played them before and know how dangerous they can be.

“They are one of the best counter-attacking teams in this league.

“We have to be well prepared, set up right and make sure we don’t lose the ball to become too open.

“Apart from the last result, we are going well.

“Getting to the play-offs will be tough but we think we can make a good challenge.

“We are looking up the table rather than looking down which was the case this time last season.”