Preston North End manager tracking the progress of loan players

Preston North End manager Alex Neil might have been excused for having a night with his feet up during a clear midweek.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Preston midfielder Adam O'Reilly is on loan at Stalybridge Celtic

But on Tuesday night he headed to Bower Fold to watch Stalybridge Celtic’s clash with Gainsborough Trinity.

It was a chance for Neil and Peter Ridsdale to track the progress of two of the youngsters PNE have loaned out.

Midfielder Adam O’Reilly and winger Ethan Walker are both at Stalybridge and made their third appearances for the NPL Premier League side in the midweek clash.

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Preston manager Alex Neil

O’Reilly, 19 scored with some help from 17-year-old Walker. He followed up Walker’s free-kick which the keeper could not hold.

His goal gave Stalybridge the lead but the visitors went on to win 2-1.

This loan is an important part of O’Reilly and Walker’s development.

The pair were a year apart in PNE’s academy. However, they made their first-team debut in the same game against Aston Villa in December 2018, coming on as late substitutes.

Ethan Walker makes his PNE debut in December 2018

Republic of Ireland youth international O’Reilly went on to have a short spell on loan at Hyde last season, while Walker recently spent a month at Altrincham.

Now they are looking to get a regular run of first-team football at Stalybridge.

With Jack Armer on loan at Lancaster and Jack Baxter with Clitheroe, the non-league loan route is one North End are keen to use to get younger players senior game time.

With no reserve side or Under-23s at Preston, the gap from the academy to first-team is a big one to bridge.

Neil said: “You don’t really want the lads staying with the Under-18s because a lot of them have outgrown that.

“We needed to get them out to get games and I’m really disappointed we didn’t do it earlier.

“Thankfully now we can get them out, get them matches and they have to go and show everyone what they can do.

“The first step is to do it at that level. If they do really well there, teams at a higher level will maybe want them for the start of next season.

“If they do extremely well they will come back with us in pre-season.

“If they can take that next step we’ll see where we get to, if we need to put them back out on loan for experience then we will.

“Ben Davies did that – he worked his way on loan to get to where he is now.

"He went to York, then later to Newport and Fleetwood."