Ryan Lowe has crunch Preston North End period ahead - with frustration high heading into festive games
You can imagine how the conversations from outside will go. Preston North End: eighth in the Championship table. What on earth are that lot moaning about again? What exactly do they expect over there? And that would be an understandable peripheral view to take, given the position PNE are in after 19 games. But, the state at Deepdale right now is far from harmonious.
And so, you get the feeling that manager Ryan Lowe is undoubtedly heading into a vital stage of his North End tenure - not for the first time. As the Liverpudlian pointed out in his last post-match press conference, he has endured and survived a similar situation to this before. Coincidentally, that challenging run also followed a memorable away day at Blackburn Rovers. The feeling around PNE at present - three-and-a-half-weeks on from Liam Lindsay's last gasp winner at Ewood Park - looks to be approaching boiling point for the majority. Several seem to be there already.
Supporters have watched their team win two of their last 12 games, with Preston conceding 27 goals. North End's form in the last ten matches is 24th in the league; major attacking and defensive team stats have been bottom three throughout the campaign. And while key and cruel moments undoubtedly went against Lowe's side across the last dozen fixtures, there were also the painfully bad performances against West Brom, Middlesbrough and Queens Park Rangers.
It is the past two defeats which really set the vitriol back in - Preston just about registering two shots on target in those 180 minutes of drab, dire football. Time will quickly tell whether confidence was simply shot dead after the Cardiff City hammer-blow, or if North End's manager is losing grip of this thing. Lowe has, several times, praised the attitude and application of his players and on Saturday at Norwich City, he needs them to play out of their skin for him.
Lowe's relationship with the Deepdale faithful has been volatile. He was adored in the infancy of his reign but since then, it has been a constant battle to win those in the stands over and really find a place in people's hearts. Perhaps football managers never do that for good, but the resentment towards Ryan is high - for a manager who has had his team around mid-table for the majority of his time in charge.
Why is that? Lowe is bullish and brash in interviews and sparks fume among PNE's online presence with regularity. He has never quite recovered from those early promises of delivering attacking, entertaining football either. And as for the football which supporters have been served up over the last two years, it's been too turgid too often for lots out there. There have, it is worth noting, been some memorable days watching Lowe's team.
As things stand there is no sense - or knowledge - of uncertainty around Lowe's position at the club. With Preston sitting where they are in the division and two points behind sixth placed Hull City, the simple assumption to make is that pressure from above is a while off yet - with credit in the bank of Ryan. The common belief over the years has been that PNE managers will need to drop down the division to be at risk of the chop.
But this season's data would suggest that the slide is only just getting started. The boss isn't bothered about boss clean sheets but boss, they wouldn't half help at this point. There are more than enough signs out there for concern. Of course, a couple of wins flips the script entirely and North End can look forward again. Tony Mowbray's dismissal at ninth placed Sunderland, though, shows that league position is not the be-all-and-end-all in December.
A growing tide of negativity is rarely good news for a football team. It perhaps won't be tangible at Carrow Road, where the die-hards will head and make themselves heard. But Ched Evans admitted he could feel the atmosphere turning at Deepdale last time out and that is never, ever a positive sign: fury among the fans transferring on to the pitch, where it is tough anyway.
After a disastrous three game week, PNE now have another packed seven days in store and it will be testing - with away trips to Norwich and Huddersfield and an in-form Watford to host. A long trek to Swansea City and Boxing Day clash with free scoring, flying Leeds United follows the upcoming trio of matches.
Lowe likely has the expected credit in the bank from those above, but he now needs to start winning back a passionate fan base which doesn't expect too much, but cannot be fooled. PNE's boss has a turnaround job on his hands, with a squad of players he was content with once the summer transfer window slammed shut. It's two wins from 12 games - and that first number cannot afford to stay the same for much longer.