Could one of the reasons behind the good start made to the season by Preston be the squad being that bit older and wiser?
Last season in particular they had the ‘young, hungry’ label attached to them.
This campaign they are still ravenously hungry in their desire to do well – third place is good going.
But North End aren’t quite as baby-faced this time and a touch more maturity looks to be making quite a bit of difference.
Last season, PNE were in the top three or four in the Championship in terms of the minutes given in league games to players aged 23 and under.
According to Prospect Watch, a stats-based blog, the Lilywhites have given 904 minutes of league action to lads 23 and younger so far in 2019/20.
That is the fourth lowest in the division, Cardiff’s 721 minutes, Fulham’s 667 and Sheffield Wednesday’s big fat zero, being lower.
For completeness, at the top of the tree are Barnsley with their younger players getting 6,931 minutes on the pitch in the Championship this season.
Brentford are second with 5,476, then Huddersfield on 4,753. Swansea are fourth in the list with 4,654 minutes.
The reason for North End slipping down the table of game time for their younger players is straight forward.
Firstly, they’ve signed a couple of experienced heads which has meant a bit less game time for one or two younger lads.
And secondly, some of the players who fitted into the 23 bracket last season have had their 24th birthday.
That extra year on the clock is something which Alex Neil has referenced more than once of late when discussing the good start.
Keeping most of the squad together, with the exception of Callum Robinson, was a big thing for Neil.
Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne have now tipped over to 24
Daniel Johnson has just turned 27, the same age as Billy Bodin and Andrew Hughes.
Darnell Fisher , Sean Maguire and Brad Potts are 25, Tom Barkhuizen and Joe Rafferty are 26, as is Jayden Stockley.
These lads are not pups now, they have that bit more experience.
There is still youth there so let’s not worry about this becoming Dad’s Army. Far from it.
Josh Harrop doesn’t turn 24 until Christmas, then you have got Jordan Storey, Ryan Ledson and Josh Ginnelly who are 22.
Andre Green, on loan from Aston Villa and just at the moment something of a forgotten figure, is only 21.
Then you’ve got summer buy Tom Bayliss aged 20, a player who North End have such high hopes for.
We have yet to see much of Bayliss as the midfielder is given time to settle but there is an excitement from the PNE hierarchy about what he could offer in time.
In the second half of last season, the emergence of centre-half Storey added to the amount of minutes which younger players were getting.
Him and Davies enjoyed an unbroken partnership at the heart of the defence from mid January onwards.
This season Storey has had just 28 minutes of league action, with Patrick Bauer the preferred option to date next to Davies.
Bauer turns 27 at the end of this month and offers that extra experience Neil talked about towards the end of last season as he got a summer shopping list in mind.
The Bauer/Davies pairing has been impressive to say the least. To have the young talent of Storey backing them up and pushing them is a healthy situation.
Further up the pitch, Paul Gallagher is going strong at the age of 35,Neil sensibly handling a Saturday/Tuesday schedule by not tending to start him in both.
At at the top end, David Nugent is now part of the equation having shaken off his early-season injury.
So from front to back the squad had options both older and younger and is the sort of blend Neil was looking for.
It is not a move away from investing in youth and the buying model which has served Preston well of late.
More so it is a generally younger squad picking-up experience, slightly older and wiser.
It is interesting to see Barnsley at the top of the tree is terms of time spent on the pitch by younger players.
At the moment, having that youthful look has not helped them settle into the Championship with the Tykes third bottom of the table.
They were wide open at Deepdale last week, North End exploiting that in the second half as they recorded a 5-1 win.
Barnsley fans tended to be pointing the finger at the club’s board for poor results rather than at boss Daniel Stendel – experienced heads sold on and replaced with younger players.
He left his job on Tuesday, the Oakwell club using the word ‘separated’ within the statement to announce the German’s departure.
Stendel had a night on the town with some Barnsley fans on Wednesday, such was his standing among them for achieving promotion in May.
I found that a nice touch when the trend tends to be forget and move on in the blink of an eye. Another boss gone after defeat at PNE.