Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: What’s next on the ‘to do’ list for Alex Neil?

Preston manager Alex Neil with Alan Browne, Sean Maguire and Brad Potts
Preston manager Alex Neil with Alan Browne, Sean Maguire and Brad Potts

You could say that West Bromwich’s pursuit of Preston North End boss Alex Neil was all a bit ‘2009’.

We’ve been here before with the Baggies haven’t we?

Part of June 2009 was spent by North End fighting off their advances for Alan Irvine.

The drawbridge went up then too, Irvine staying at Deepdale – only to be sacked six months later.

There followed three managers in as many years before the stability of the last six years or so – four in charge for Simon Grayson and Neil not too far off his second anniversary.

Last weekend was a fraught one for Lilywhites supporters, with them not really knowing if they were coming or going – rather they didn’t know if their manager was coming or going.

Some had convinced themselves that Neil would be Albion’s next manager on the basis of rumours which were doing the rounds.

The Scotsman going off down the tunnel at the final whistle of the 4-1 defeat to WBA and a post-match press conference which posed more questions than gave answers, served only to fuel rumours.

Those were dispelled on Sunday dinnertime when North End announced Neil had signed a new three-year contract.

I must admit, I found it difficult to read the situation last weekend.

Driving to the Hawthorns I was pretty confident that Neil would stay.

By the time I left Albion’s ground though, I had my doubts concerning what he would do next.

With hindsight, I think Neil was just trying to be too careful post-match.

He had PNE’s offer on the table by that stage and knew of WBA’s interest. The fact the contract was signed before Sunday lunch is maybe an indicator he knew the evening before which way he was leaning, a case of sleeping on it and then picking up the pen?

Neil’s negotiations went beyond wage and contract length it would seem – he said as much on Tuesday when he met the press to preview the Easter games.

He will have views on what is needed to strengthen the squad and who needs keeping hold of.

Interesting too that Neil spoke of an outside audit on the number of injuries the squad have had this season.

Those definitely need to decrease because no team can carry the pile-ups PNE have had both this season and indeed last.

No one has a crystal ball as to how North End will do next season but you would like to think that events and talks of the last week will have them better prepared than ever before.

Keeping hold of Neil did buck the trend somewhat in terms of Preston’s recent history.

Irvine aside 10 years ago, they have tended to find it hard to keep in-demand managers.

David Moyes, Billy Davies and Simon Grayson all went when better offers came in.

It was Everton for Moyes, not a job he could he could turn down – Premier League football and a chance to take a big club forward.

Davies attracted Derby’s interest, a club in the same division but with a bigger budget and one he took up at the first time of asking.

Grayson and Sunderland very soon found themselves to be incompatible, with the grass not always greener on the other side of the fence.

How Neil would have found it at Albion had things turned out differently, we will never know.

That is irrelevant now, his focus on pushing Preston further forward. In Neil, North End have a manager who immerses himself in the coaching and tactical aspects of the job.

He chooses not to involve himself in the financial side of things with agents and contract demands – bar his own that is.

Neil is at his happiest on the training pitch and in the analysts’ room – going square-eyed over footage of future opponents.

His aim for next season has to be a play-off push, that aided by a consistent run of form.

This season and last has shown that North End 
cannot afford slow starts or dips in form.

In 2017/18, Neil saw his side start well before hitting a run of four defeats late in the autumn.

January 2018 wasn’t great in terms of their league form, then three defeats came last Easter.

Those dips were to leave them playing catch-up in the final run-in and remember, they weren’t far off.

This season it was their start which made it hard for North End, so too results since the international break.

Spot the symmetry in those two spells – it is the same clubs who have done the damage.

In September, they lost four on the spin to Reading, Sheffield United, Leeds and West Bromwich.

Defeats to the same four in late March and early April ended their play-off hopes.

So more consistency and fewer injuries seems to be the message for 2019/20, the planning for which already seems to be under way.

All North End fans will hope that Neil’s third season can be a successful one, and that he can take the club on from the promise shown in the first two into a determined play-off push.