Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View

John Welsh slides in for a tackle against Millwall last month
John Welsh slides in for a tackle against Millwall last month

I am no big fan of international breaks. While it is nice to have the weekend off now and then, by the time the next game comes round I’m absolutely pining for a football fix.

But if a break in the top two divisions is good for one thing, it is taking stock of a club’s fortunes so far – time for some reflection.

At the 11-game mark, Preston sit in sixth place in the Championship with 20 points.

The goals have started to come, 11 finding the back of the net compared to just two in league action in August.

By the same token, five goals were shipped during September’s six games – just once had they been breached the month before.

All in all, a strong month to build on the foundations laid in August.

I would say that North End have surpassed many people’s expectations after the first two blocks of games.

The doomsday scenario was that PNE would hardly have a point on the board come the end of August in light of a tough fixture list which pitched them against Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Derby County, Reading and Middlesbrough.

Eight points from that lot raised the expectation level and 12 more in September see Alex Neil’s men sat in sixth place.

While last month’s games didn’t carry as daunting a look as August did, there were still big challenges.

Cardiff were leading the division and unbeaten when they came to Deepdale.

Birmingham had spent millions, while Hull City and Sunderland were fresh down from the Premier League.

The goals flowed against Cardiff, a first away victory in more than eight months came at Birmingham, with four points taken off Hull and Sunderland.

On the flip side, the home draws with Barnsley and Millwall offered up a touch of disappointment.

You could put Sunderland in that category, although the return of former employees meant things were not going to be straightforward.

All of September’s points were gathered without the injured Ben Pearson.

Don’t get me wrong, he was still missed but at least North End showed they have a way round him not playing.

It wasn’t just Pearson who was missing, in fact you could make a good five-a-side team from the absentees.

Declan Rudd, Tom Clarke, Paul Gallagher, Pearson and Greg Cunningham are the injured five.

Bear in mind too, Darnell Fisher and John Welsh both missed a game each, this squad has been stretched.

Mentioning Welsh there, his return was a big plus in September for me.

It warms the heart to see any player returning from a long-term injury but to have Welsh’s no-nonsense approach back is great.

His return is having to be managed, hence him missing Sunderland’s visit when he felt a niggle in the calf which caused him so much grief last season.

But three starts and two appearances off the bench was progress after 11 months on the sidelines.

Welsh certainly bought North End some time in the absence of Pearson.

Although they play that shielding midfield role in a different way, one way or the other they give the back four that extra bit of protection.

That was missing against Sunderland, a game when a battler was really needed in light of how the Black Cats used the counter-attack.

Aside from Welsh, who else caught the eye this last month?

When played further up the pitch, I thought Alan Browne came into his own.

At Hull in particular, he covered the proverbial every blade of grass.

Browne’s performance against Cardiff was very good, capped off with that stunning strike from 45 yards.

Daniel Johnson came back from injury to impress, the encouragement from Neil for him to get on the ball slightly deeper something which has benefited DJ.

Tom Barkhuizen began to show the form he had done last season, his tap-in goal at Birmingham getting him up and running.

At the back, Ben Davies and Josh Earl continued to cement their places.

Having watched the Barnsley draw from the bench with Tommy Spurr playing instead, Davies has started the five games since.

Earl hasn’t looked back from making his debut in August.

The teenager has made the left-back spot his own in Cunningham’s absence, to the point Kevin O’Connor has not had a look-in.

His performance against Sunderland displayed a high degree of maturity, one he will be looking to match in the weeks ahead.

That period sees trips to Fulham and Wolves, then back-to-back home matches with Brentford and Aston Villa.

A visit to Ipswich brings the curtain down on that next block of games before a third international break of the campaign puts the brakes on domestic action.

Should we be talking about Preston’s progress in early November in a similar manner to the way we have done regarding September, a high degree of excitement and expectation will be about the club.

One step at a time but there is a quiet optimism among the PNE faithful for the campaign ahead.