Preston North End – 2017 Review

Preston North End's Manager Alex Neil
Preston North End's Manager Alex Neil

Dave Seddon takes a look back at an eventful year for PNE

Preston fans will look back at 2017 as being a year of change at Deepdale, primarily due to the exit of Simon Grayson and arrival of Alex Neil.

Jordan Hugill has been the subject of intense speculation regarding his future in 2017

Jordan Hugill has been the subject of intense speculation regarding his future in 2017

The Lilywhites had been one of the few Football League clubs clubs to have a period of stability in their manager’s office.

That changed at the end of June when Grayson left to take the Sunderland job, one he lasted just four months in.

Neil was swiftly installed as Grayson’s successor, the first managerial change at PNE since February 2013.

In that sense, 2017 was ayear of two contrasting halves – the ship steered by two men with contrasting approaches to the job.

Former boss Simon Grayson left for Sunderland in the summer

Former boss Simon Grayson left for Sunderland in the summer

JANUARY: North End started the year on a high note, winning their first visit to Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium on January 2.

Tom Clarke scored the goal, sneaking round the back of the Brewers defence to hook home a cross from Callum Robinson.

The day before that win, Preston had registered the signings of Tom Barkhuizen, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, the deals having been agreed in advance of the window opening.

PNE pushed Arsenal all the way in the FA Cup, going in front through an early Robinson goal before they slipped to a 2-1 defeat.

They hit back with a 2-0 win over Brighton, while there was a creditable 2-2 draw away to Aston Villa – Jordan Hugill netting both goals.

FEBRUARY: Preston were to enjoy a an unbeaten month, winning three and drawing two.

The highlight was a 4-2 win over Brentford which saw Aiden McGeady net twice, Horgan and Robinson also on target.

MARCH: A player to come to prominence in March was Tom Barkhuizen following his move from Morecambe.

He got his first start at Fulham on Gentry Day and scored in the 3-1 defeat.

Barkhuizen netted five goals in March, including a double against Reading.

A 2-2 draw at local rivals Blackburn was to prove memorable to the 7,000 Preston fans who made the trip to Ewood Park by reason of a stoppage-time equaliser.

It was a goal superbly crafted by Paul Gallagher and Tom Clarke, and finished with calmness by McGeady.

The result was to have big consequences for Rovers at the end of the season as they tumbled out of the Championship.

APRIL: The month began with a home draw against Nottingham Forest and a 5-0 thumping of Bristol City.

Then it all began to come apart in terms of North End making a late push for the top six.

Grayson’s men lost four on the bounce over the next few weeks, the 3-2 defeat to Huddersfield particularly costly as Clarke ruptured his Achilles tendon.

A 1-1 draw with relegated Rotherham halted the run of losses butby now they were limping over the line.

MAY: A dire 1-0 defeat at Wolves brough the season to a close and that was to prove Grayson’s last game in charge of Preston.

JUNE: What a big month this proved to be, with it starting by the Lilywhites announcing the signing of Sean Maguire from Cork City.

The big news came on the first morning of pre-season training as Sunderland made an official approach to speak to Grayson. He was named the Black Cats new boss by early evening.

JULY: Less than a week later, Alex Neil had taken up office in succession to Grayson at Deepdale, the start of a new era for North End. Neil used the month of pre-season training to fine-tune the squad into his way of thinking.

AUGUST: The 2017/18 season kicked-off with a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale, Daniel Johnson netting the winner with a penalty. Later in the month, PNE turned down an £8m bid for Jordan Hugill from Reading.

SEPTEMBER: Preston went six games unbeaten in September, the highlights including a 3-0 win over then-leaders Cardiff, a 3-1 win at Birmingham and a 2-1 victory against Hull.

Grayson returned with Sunderland, honours ending even with a 2-2 draw.

OCTOBER: North End held a 2-0 lead at Fulham but were unable to hang on to it with the Cottagers levelling in stoppage-time.

Defeats to Wolves and Brentford followed.

NOVEMBER: The losing run stretched to four games but was brought to an end by a 0-0 draw with Bolton.

Goals from Gallagher and Robinson gave PNE a 2-1 win at Bristol City, Neil then overseeing a 1-1 against his forrmer club Norwich.

DECEMBER: Jordan Hugill’s 88th minute goal delivered Preston a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers at Deepdale. It was the start of three wins on the bounce, with Burton beaten 2-1 and Sheffield United 1-0.

Draws came over Christmas against Nottingham Forest and Barnsley, before the year was rounded-off on a superb note at Cardiff.

Clarke’s 90th minute header gave them a 1-0 win in South Wales in front of the Sky Sports cameras.