Are the football public finally starting to take some notice of Preston North End’s surge into the Championship’s play-off race?
Following last Saturday’s win over Birmingham City, Alex Neil complained that very few folk outside of the Preston fan-base cared about the Lilywhites – hence them going under the radar.
But it just might be that their 12-game unbeaten run is beginning to register with some.
BBC Five Live had Neil as a phone guest on their Monday night show – the PNE boss quizzed by Kelly Cates, Andy Townsend and Chris Sutton.
There’s been the interest from West Bromwich in Neil too – however unwelcome that is – which shows the progress made by North End has not gone unnoticed beyond the Lancashire border.
One man who cannot be accused of ignoring PNE is Colin Murray, presenter of the EFL highlights on Quest on a Saturday night.
If I didn’t know already that he is a diehard Liverpool fan, I would have had Colin down as a lifelong North Ender, such is the positive way in which he has always talked about the club.
Despite this upturn, I’m with Neil in thinking that Preston deserve more credit.
Often it is through gritted teeth that praise comes from opposition managers.
How many times have we heard them comment along the lines of, ‘Preston make it hard for you, they have a way of playing’.
I’ve never understood that one – after all, who rolls out the welcome mat in a game of competitive sport?
As for some opposition fans, in their eyes North End haven’t won a game fairly or squarely this season!
A shout out at this point for ‘Mooching’, a PNE fans’ page on social media.
The chaps there spend their Saturday evenings trawling Twitter for posts made by fans of the team which North End have just beaten.
Said tweets then appear in a lovely collage – a long list of disgruntled folk working themselves into a rage about losing to ‘teams like Preston’.
Disgraceful eh? How dare a hard-working side, driven on by a tactically astute boss, beat their team?
They might be lower table in terms of budget but cash isn’t everything – it helps but it isn’t a deal breaker.
On the manager front, it was Garry Monk’s turn to be annoyed by his Birmingham side’s defeat to North End last week.
Monk probably had good reason to be disappointed – any manager would be after conceding a 94th-minute goal.
Fair play to his side, the Blues had been better than Preston in the first half and for a spell in the second.
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and North End came on strong in the closing stages to have their best spell.
Birmingham didn’t have chance after chance, their best sight of goal being the one-on-one Che Adams had with Declan Rudd – the PNE keeper winning that one.
Bearing in mind Preston had more possession (not a statistic I get over-excited about, mind you) and the fact the Blues didn’t stack up scoring chances, I thought Monk’s assessment that his troops ‘totally controlled’ the game was a little over the top.
Granted, North End were not at their fluent best going forward. However they were strong at the back again.
One post-match debate more locally was the size of the crowd.
Neil drew attention to it in that he felt the 17,509 crowd should have been higher in terms of Preston fans. There were a shade under 12,000 home supporters in the ground to watch a team unbeaten since January.
What I will say about that though, was that the noise generated by them when Sean Maguire’s header hit the back of the net in the 94th minute, was as loud as anything heard at Deepdale in quite a while.
The empty seats debate is an ongoing one, whether it boils down to price or people having other things to do.
North End are never going to have huge support the way some clubs do.
Geographically, they are plonked within driveable distances of several Premier League clubs – some folk are content to watch top-flight football from the comfort of the bar stool too.
There is more support out there though, and a way needs to be found to draw that to Deepdale.
The following away from home is excellent, tickets selling well for Reading next week, while Gentry Day was a sell-out in 24 hours.
Reading is a big one, never mind what comes after it.
If PNE could return with three points and unbeaten in 13, what a confidence shot it would be ahead of the home double-header against Sheffield United and Leeds.
Finally, indulge me one moment as I say goodbye and good luck to Adam Lord, my fellow PNE reporter for the last three or so years.
Pastures new beckon for Adam and I for one will miss both his professionalism and company in the press box.
Quite how many miles we have driven in diversions on the way home from midweek away games – ‘Tinpottery’ was a phrase Adam used to describe the Highways Agency on one trip – I wouldn’t dare to add up!
All the best Adam, it’s been an absolute blast.