Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview: Lancashire Post chief football writer looks back on Preston North End’s season

Preston North End's Alan Browne battles with  Norwich City's Tom Trybull
Preston North End's Alan Browne battles with Norwich City's Tom Trybull

The dust settled on Preston’s season in the big smoke last week, one which could be broken down into three parts.

A poor start and a poor end sandwiched a very good middle, combining to give the Lilywhites a 14th place finish in the Championship.

Inconsistency dogged North End both in results and selection – lessons to be learned for next year.

Five points were delivered in the first 10 games, 52 were gathered from the next 28, with a paltry four points put on the board in the last eight.

Forget the time honoured cliché of football being a game of two halves, this was a campaign of three thirds.

That middle section gives grounds for optimism, with nearly two points a match gathered over six months.

Over the course of a full season, that is promotion form.

However, North End’s start and finish was akin to that of a side in a relegation struggle.

It is that inconsistency which Alex Neil will look to iron out this summer as he shapes the squad for a tilt at the top six in 2019/20.

The impressive form mid season was achieved when Neil in general had quality and numbers available.

Callum Robinson was the big casualty through part of that, missing 19 of the 28 games where PNE massed the majority of their points.

The statistics showed that they coped well without him, bar the wobble at Christmas when Robinson had plenty of company in the queue for the treatment room.

By the time he came back, the injuries and suspensions were stacking up again.

Tom Barkhuizen, Brad Potts, Tom Clarke, Andrew Hughes and Brandon Barker were all missing from March onwards, Ben Pearson and Ryan Ledson absent in April due to suspension.

There was the ridiculous scenario of having to leave Pearson out of the last two games to cut out the risk of another ban in August.

This was the 10th season I’d covered North End for the Lancashire Post and it was rarely dull.

So what were the highs and lows from my seat in the press box?

In terms of Preston’s best performance of the season, it was against Norwich City at Deepdale in February.

That takes into account the standard of opposition, the Canaries recovering to go on and win the league.

In the first half that night, North End were out of the blocks like a 100m sprinter.

Norwich might not have hit their usual standards but they were no mugs either.

Some of their movement was a joy to watch, however Alex Neil’s men kept them at bay until late on when they hit a consolation goal.

Not far behind was the 4-1 derby win over Blackburn for obvious reasons, not least the Twitter post which claimed Bradley Dack wore Ben Pearson pyjamas such was the superhero job Pearo did on the Rovers man!

As for Preston’s best away performance, it is a toss-up between QPR and Stoke, two games just a week apart.

To score four goals away is impressive at any level and at Loftus Road they blew their hosts away.

It was a side re-energised by new boys Potts and Jayden Stockley, while Ben Davies and Sean Maguire were back starting after injury.

The following week they went to Stoke and came back with a 2-0 win.

While the Potters might not have had the best season back at this level, North End made a statement with the victory.

Stoke’s side and bench was packed with players bought for millions, yet PNE made them look ordinary.

Alan Browne put Preston ahead and a memory which stands out is the ‘Baluga’ song belting out from the away end.

Potts’ second goal and knee slide celebration in front of 2,000 North Enders capped the afternoon off to perfection.

Notably mentions too for the away wins at Nottingham Forest and Blackburn.

Louis Moult earned his ‘King Louis’ status with the winner at the City Ground and the sight of 7,514 PNE supporters at one end of Ewood Park was superb.

I could go on longer as far as the away victory category is concerned – the annual win at Bristol City, beating Bolton, being outplayed for an hour at Middlesbrough and turning the game on its head to win it 2-1.

Flying out of the blocks at Millwall with three goals in the first half – the Lions were pussy cats that afternoon.

For pure drama, nothing beats October’s 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.

The night started with a cabbage thrown at Steve Bruce and things didn’t let up until the final whistle.

PNE were 2-0 down, went 3-2 up with three substitutes scoring, got pegged back to 3-3 and then Chris Maxwell saved a penalty – that the last kick of the game.

On the flip side of the coin, the poorest displays from Preston this season I would say came at Leeds in September – they simply didn’t compete – against West Brom on Gentry Day and indeed at Brentford.

Neil being linked with the Albion job in the days leading up to the Hawthorns visit put a cloud over a special day.

As for the Brentford game, they couldn’t raise a gallop and were second best.

Anyway, just 85 days to go until next season kicks-off!