Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview: Preston squad requires a tweak rather than major rebuild

Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen
Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen

As we wait for the transfer market to crank into life, we are playing a guessing game to a certain extent as to what business Preston North End will do this summer.

The 2018/19 season only concludes this weekend with the EFL play-offs, so these are very early days in the transfer window.

Over the next few weeks though, the market will get rolling and we should get a clearer picture of what and who is needed by North End manager Alex Neil.

At this stage I envisage more of a tweak rather than wholesale changes.

More quality added here and there, not a ripping-up and starting again

In terms of numbers, four or five? Similar to what was done in January when it comes to a head count you might reason.

To help create room for the summer recruiting, there was a clearing of the decks in terms of who was on the retained list.

Six players released who hadn’t kicked a ball for PNE in more than a season – or at all – and were still on the payroll.

There are others who are under contract who could well go over the next couple of months, fringe players who are unlikely to get a look in next season.

We await to see if there is any interest in the ‘crown jewels’ but just for the time being let’s assume they stay around.

So what needs adding to them as the Lilywhites look to go from 14th place and up into the promotion mix?

Most clubs are constantly on the look out for a striker and PNE are no different.

They actually didn’t fare too badly for goals, Neil’s men finishing eighth highest scorers in the division.

But another option up front would be welcome to give them even more of a ruthless streak.

In terms of the supply line to the front, the wings seem quite well stocked as things stand.

Tom Barkhuizen, Callum Robinson, Billy Bodin and Josh Ginnelly are the options as things stand.

How the summer turns out for Robinson in terms of interest from elsewhere, bearing in mind he will be in the last year of his contract, might alter the landscape.

Barkhuizen and Bodin are also about to go into the last 12 months too, so renewals could prove to be very astute business as well as what is done in the transfer market.

The pair offer things in different ways from the wing.

Barkhuizen is pure pace and fits what Neil wants like a glove, in that he stretches the play going forward and isn’t shy at tracking back.

After a season out with a torn cruciate ligament and cartilage damage, Bodin will be looking to make up for lost time when he returns.

He is more about coming inside from the right-wing on to his left foot judging by what we saw in his first few months before the injury, unpicking defences that way.

There could be room for another winger when you bear in mind Manchester City pair Lukas Nmecha and Brandon Barker have gone.

Maybe Nmecha playing wide was more necessity than choice but Barker was and out-and-out winger.

In terms of support to the main striker from advanced central areas – in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 – Neil has Alan Browne, Brad Potts and Josh Harrop to call on.

Browne and Potts are the ‘runners’ to use a Neil phrase, Harrop offering a bit more craft perhaps.

Robinson can play behind the striker, Sean Maguire too, hence that looking quite a strong area at the moment.

A bit further back in the supply line is probably where there’s a vacancy, someone in the mould of Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson who wants to get on the ball.

North End have their holders in the shape of Ben Pearson and Ryan Ledson, provided they can stay on the pitch.

Is work needed at the back?

Centre-backs Ben Davies and Jordan Storey walked off with three player of the year awards between them, which offers much encouragement for the future.

As a team though, Preston shipped 67 league goals with only six teams conceding more in the Championship.

Maybe the season caught up a bit with Storey at the end, after all it was his first at this level.

I still think Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington have plenty to offer, perhaps backed-up with a new face.

Later on in the season, the experience which Clarke and Huntington bring was missed I thought.

At the start of the column I mentioned this weekend’s play-offs and if we take the semi-finals as a barometer, we could get three very good finals.

I’m leaning towards a win for Aston Villa over Derby in Monday’s Championship showdown, although the Rams impressed me so much in the second leg of their semi-final win at Leeds.

Before then, there’s the League Two battle between Tranmere and Newport where I’ve got a sneaking feeling for the Welsh side.

As for Sunday’s League One final, Charlton take on Sunderland.

The London side’s form was so strong in the second half of the season, although only penalties got them past Doncaster in the semi-final.

Sunderland don’t lose many but I’ll stick my next out and go for Charlton.