Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View

Alex Baptiste goes on the offensive against Burton Albion
Alex Baptiste goes on the offensive against Burton Albion
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Not necessarily a headline maker but a vital cog nonetheless in the workings of Preston this season – step forward Alex Baptiste.

As the campaign has gone on, we have scrutinised Ben Pearson’s rise to be PNE’s key performer, the emergence of Jordan Hugill as a regular starter and the continued development of Callum Robinson.

Baptiste’s work at the other end of the pitch deserves recognition, the hired help from Middlesbrough having been an ever-present in league action since arriving in August.

His goal-line clearance late in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest was worthy of more than the couple of lines it will have made into various match reports filed from the City Ground.

Somehow he got back to head a Apostolos Vellios effort up against the underside of the bar and away from danger, ensuring PNE left with a point to show for their efforts.

It was not that alone for which he is subject of the main section of this column.

Baptiste defended pretty solidly throughout the game and had his moments going forward too – a couple of surging runs out of defence, one which ended with a shot which travelled just wide.

His cross in the closing stages set up Hugill for a header which the substitute should really have put on target rather than sending it the wrong side of the post.

In his 16 appearances in a Preston shirt, ‘Baps’ has only been on the losing side four times.

He was the matchwinner at Norwich in October, his header that day in Norfolk one of three goals for the club.

On Wednesday, there was a start for him in the middle after several weeks at right-back.

Simon Grayson reverted to a 3-5-2 to match up Forest after favouring a flat back four of late, Baptiste shuffling across to form the three-man back line with Tom Clarke and Bailey Wright.

As North End swept forward in the first half, Baptiste got his chance to do some attacking.

Depending on formation, it could be a return to right-back for him at Bristol City.

In Baptiste and Marnick Vermijl, Preston are well covered defensively on that right-hand side.

For the first few weeks of the season, it was their Achilles heel – Liam Grimshaw the make-do-and-mend option.

The double capture on deadline day might have been overshadowed by Aiden McGeady’s arrival, or indeed the fact that no striker joined.

But it is proving to be a shrewd piece of business, Vermijl now up and running after a hamstring strain and Baptiste going strong.

There will be more company for Baptiste at the back with the signing of Andy Boyle from Dundalk.

His arrival, with that of Daryl Horgan, was confirmed this week after much speculation on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Dundalk being stranded in Tel Aviv overnight after their Europa League game with Maccabi, was one of the stranger reasons you will see for a transfer being held up.

But that was how it was in Horgan’s case – it was only on his delayed return that the deal was signed and sealed.

Boyle’s switch had been agreed prior to that, both clubs wanting to wait until Horgan’s move was done so as to announce it as a double deal.

Horgan will compete with McGeady, Robinson and Tom Barkhuizen in wide areas from early January onwards.

The challenge for Boyle is to force his way into a defence which has not changed much these last few seasons.

Clarke, Wright and Paul Huntington have pretty much occupied the central defensive slots between them.

Others have occasionally filled in – Baptiste as discussed being one of them – but of late preferred in the right-back role.

Boyle comes as a central defender first and foremost, and after a successful time in Ireland, will be looking to make a mark over here.

Does it signal an acceptance by North End that they are fighting a losing battle in trying to persuade Wright to agree to a new contract? Although his current deal runs until the end of June, next month is the last opportunity for them to cash in should Wright see his future away from Deepdale.

It might be that Wright ends up signing a new deal and Boyle is extra competition.

But the longer the ‘will-he, won’t-he?’ saga goes on, the less likely it looks that the Aussie will commit at this stage.

Contract negotiations can drag on. However, the fact that deals with other PNE players were done quite swiftly earlier in the season, has put Wright’s situation under the microscope.