Dave Seddon’s Preston North End press view: Swapping high-flying PNE for Stoke would not have made sense

Last weekend was a little fraught to say the least in the life of Preston North End as Stoke City made a play for Alex Neil.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 8th November 2019, 9:05 pm
Preston manager Alex Neil during last week's win at Charlton
Preston manager Alex Neil during last week's win at Charlton

All’s well that ends well, the Lilywhites kept their manager, the Potters got a flea in their ear and moved on to another target.

But it was a stressful 36 hours or so that PNE could have done without in the build-up to their game on the telly against Charlton.

Perhaps this is territory North End will have to get used to, learning to handle the fact that their talented manager will be looked at by clubs searching for a new boss.

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It happened frequently when David Moyes was the Deepdale boss, while Billy Davies attracted his share of admirers too.

Both eventually got offers they found too good to turn down and off they went.

Simon Grayson also got lured away, that creating the vacancy which Neil filled.

Twice in six months Neil has been a wanted man, first West Bromwich attempting to land him, and last week Stoke.

That is a compliment to the job Neil is doing, also to Preston for allowing him to work in the way he is.

Should North End keep on their upward projection, the ‘hands off’ notice and their lawyer’s number must be kept close at hand.

No one blinked an eyelid when Stoke called time on Nathan Jones’ reign at the bet 365 Stadium.

The end had been nigh for Jones for some time, his time in the Potteries a struggle from start to finish.

Within a couple of hours of him going, Neil’s name rocketed to favourite with the bookies.

This is another argument for another day, but should a book be run on managerial vacancies? Things really escalated on Saturday afternoon, in the public domain anyway.

That is when a national radio station ran with the story that Neil was soon to be appointed Stoke manager.

They gave the impression Neil would soon be holding up a red and white scarf.

Timing is everything and not long afterwards, Neil strolled on to platform four at Preston Station in his PNE tracksuit to travel to London with the squad and staff.

It was a reassuring sight but there was still work to be done to keep him out of Stoke’s grasp.

That work was completed by 10pm when North End put out a statement with words to the effect Neil was staying.

Preston breathed a huge sigh of relief and the next day, PNE put on their Sunday best and beat Charlton in front of the Sky cameras.

Post-match, Neil said he didn’t have a lot to say about what had gone on.

But he did actually say quite a bit about how he had learned a lesson on dealing with speculation from what happened with West Brom’s interest in April.

That one festered for a good few days, there was that awkward press conference at the Hawthorns after PNE had been beaten by Albion.

Last weekend’s events were put to bed a great deal quicker in comparison and they needed to be.

The fact North End won the game at The Valley and put in a controlled display, showed that the players and Neil had already moved on.

The Stoke job will have its attractions, with a salary and transfer budget having a number of noughts on the end.

But there’s no dressing it up, they are in a relegation dogfight and have been in a tailspin for some time.

Hence the surprise that Stoke thought they could get Neil there, so too there being the possibility that he might have been tempted.

Managers have probably swapped mid-table for an arm-wrestle at the foot of the table before. But to swap a tilt at the top for a relegation scrap makes little sense.

Neil is on a good thing at Deepdale, he’s well liked by the supporters and has a group of players prepared to fight every inch.

He knows the financial parameters and seems able to work well within them.

In his midweek press conference, Neil spoke of his enjoyment of the challenge of working with the Preston model – recruiting lower down and polishing-up in a nutshell.

If they were to maintain a promotion push and land in the Premier League, it would almost be two fingers up to the more traditional way of splashing the cash.

Neil has got a promotion to the top flight on his CV, so too one in Scotland.

That promotion was a key factor in PNE moving for his services in July 2017 when Grayson upped sticks.

The desire then and the desire now, is for him to have a second one to boast about.

With it only being the second week of November, any promotion talk is premature.

There is progress being made though, North End landing in top spot at this level last Sunday for the first time since November 2006.

Last season and the one before, Neil’s men flirted with the play-off places at various stages.

This time they have pushed higher and you just get the feeling there is that extra bit about them now.

If there was any naivety before, that has gone.

The core of the squad has had 27 months working with Neil and have learned a lot in that time. Over the next few months, the aim is to see further progression.