Preston North End interim head coach Frankie McAvoy in the spotlight as he prepares to face former club Norwich City
It will be a new experience for Frankie McAvoy when the focus is trained on him during the forthcoming crucial run of matches for Preston North End.
For the next few weeks, 53-year-old McAvoy will the main man as the Lilywhites’ interim head coach after for many years being No.2 to Alex Neil
He was at Neil’s side at Hamilton Academical, Norwich City and PNE, that dynamic going back to 2013.
Before that, McAvoy was on the coaching staff at Accies when Neil was a player and starting out on the road to management by working in the youth set up.
With Neil dismissed by North End 24 hours after the 1-0 home defeat to Luton Town, it is McAvoy charged with the task of putting points on the board to help keep Preston clear of the Championship’s drop zone.
His first week wearing the caretaker’s coat was time to get out on the Euxton training pitches with the squad without the pressure of a game at the weekend.
Now the build-up starts to Good Friday’s Deepdale clash with league leaders Norwich, followed by an Easter Monday hike down to South Wales to task on Swansea City.
That Easter double leaders against two of the top three is followed by the visit of fourth-placed Brentford on April 10.
Had you asked McAvoy 10 days or so ago whether he would have expected to the lead man at PNE, his answer would have been a resounding ‘no’.
He chose not to dive in and accept the offer to be interim, deciding instead to give it a decent amount of thought.
That was loyalty to Neil to bear in mind and you have to respect McAvoy for that.
The easy thing would have been for him to trot out the usual ‘no-brainer’ line and be in office with Neil’s seat still warm.
He sought the opinion of others, slept on it and then gave his answer that he wanted to accept.
“The one thing I have to say is that I’m eternally grateful for everything Alex Neil has done for me,” McAvoy told the Lancashire Post.
“Alex took me to Norwich after we had been at Hamilton Accies together.
“He then offered me the opportunity to come here to Preston in 2017.
“I took that offer and have loved every minute.
“We’ve had some fantastic times but sometimes it has been tough as well, that is the nature of football.
“Obviously I have been loyal to Alex and I’m sad that it ended for him here like it did.
“I’m here, I’m employed by Preston and I have been given a great opportunity to take the club forward as best I can.”
There is a sense of irony that Norwich will provide the first opponents for North End under McAvoy’s stewardship on Friday.
He was Neil’s assistant for 26 months at Carrow Road, staying on for a while when Neil was dismissed in March 2017.
Alan Irvine, the former PNE manager, was the Canaries’ caretaker boss when Neil left, McAvoy working with him.
Briefly the following pre-season he was on the staff under the newly-appointed Daniel Farke.
Then came the call from Neil to follow him to Deepdale.
McAvoy said: “It is funny how football pans out, with Norwich being next for us.
“Norwich sit proudly at the top of the table, they have done fantastically well, credit to Daniel Farke and his team.
“When they come to Deepdale, we will be ready for them and ready to play.
“It will be a tough game but every game you play is difficult, I’ve not known a game yet when a victory hasn’t been earned.”
McAvoy’s football roots were in youth coaching but he’s been a long time in the first-team set-up.
Not exactly a ‘name’ in football circles, doing well over the next eight games could change that.
“I started coaching at Dunfermline Athletic and them moved to Hamilton in about 2004,” said McAvoy.
“I had a great 10 years there, it was a great grounding.
“I moved into the first-team environment when Billy Reid was Hamilton manager, Billy is now at Brighton with Graham Potter.
“I worked well with Billy and then Alex took over, we had a great time.
“A lot of players we worked with went on to do very well in terms of playing and we’ve had guys go on to become coaches.
“Alex has been a big success in England, our time at Norwich was fantastic with winning the play-off final and getting into the Premier League.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t keep them up.
“My journey in football continued with coming here to Preston which is a superb club. I want to do my best in helping them get the points we need.
“The way we are going to approach the next few weeks is one game at a time.
“You can’t put people under undue pressure by looking too far ahead.
“Every game brings its own pressure and the focus has to be on that one.
“We’ve got the blinkers on as far as facing Norwich is concerned, then once we’ve played we will turn to the Swansea game.”
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