6 Preston North End players who will be desperate to catch Ryan Lowe's eye in pre-season

Ryan Lowe and Kian BestRyan Lowe and Kian Best
Ryan Lowe and Kian Best | CameraSport - Alex Dodd
PNE will prepare for the third full season under manager Ryan Lowe

There are no points to play for but pre-season is always welcomed when it comes around, as supporters get back into the swing of club football.

Preston North End have announced four friendlies so far - against Lincoln City, Bamber Bridge, Salford City and Everton. Right now, players and staff are resting and recharging after another busy campaign.

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It’ll soon be time to get back to work though, and while pre-season can feel like a dress rehearsal slog at times - for some players it is a crucial few weeks. So, who will be extra hungry to catch the eye of fans and the coaching staff this summer?

Layton Stewart

The striker was eased into life at North End last season, making 16 appearances in what was his first year in senior football. Manager Ryan Lowe likes strikers who can finish and that was a big reason behind recruiting Stewart, with the PNE boss having watched him come through the youth system at Liverpool. In many of the 21-year-old’s outings, there was little to take away given his limited minutes and involvement. But, towards the end of the season we did see some flashes of what Stewart is about.

His most promising performance came at Plymouth Argyle, when he played more than 70 minutes off the bench. That in itself is encouraging and Stewart came desperately close to scoring his first goal, when he struck the post from distance. The front man was seen training abroad on social media this week, putting the hard yards in. That is good to see. Developing physically will only boost Stewart’s chances and we should see a fierce determination in him, when Preston return in a few weeks.

Kian Best

It was the youngster’s breakthrough year and he’ll now want to build on it. After featuring in nine of the first 17 league games, Best had a tough evening in the November loss to Middlesbrough. After that, he played just 35 more minutes - in the late March win over Rotherham and final day defeat to West Brom. Best did pick up an ankle injury around the festive period, but it was a prolonged absence from the first team stage. That will have been a challenge for the young player, mentally, given the start to the season he made. But, there is so much time on Best’s side - and if you’d told him his first year as a pro would go the way it did, he’d have surely taken it.

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There was the England U19 call-up too, which is brilliant for all parties. Versatility is a good trait, but Best now needs to nail down his best position. His crossing ability and passing range is excellent, but wing-back is physically demanding. North End will need to work with Best to get the best out of him and squeeze every ounce of potential out. He has that no-fear mindset required to succeed and a solid pre-season would be a boost. During that Rotherham game, we saw how fired up Best was. You’d fully expect to see that drive again in the summer.

Josh Seary

There has been hype around Seary from a very young age. He agreed to sign his professional contract at 16, before even starting his scholarship. It’s a sizable jump from academy football to the Championship, though, so it was always going to be a process for the defender. Credit must go to him for staying in and around it and getting to this stage. There’s still a lot of work to do, but Seary has never come across as fazed.

His game looks to have matured after going out on loan and training with the senior squad regularly. Lowe has spoken highly of the player and Seary’s motivation every day should be to make himself North End’s right back one day. Still only 19, there’s a long, long way to go yet. Seary’s target will be to get that little bit closer over the next couple of years. The upcoming pre-season is another important step of the journey.

Milutin Osmajic

The first season is always a challenge, but anyone who scores a seven minute hat-trick is worth sticking by. Osmajic has to live with his club record price tag and next season can hopefully see him go to the next level as a PNE player. He was tasked with leading the line on his own in his first few matches and that is not easy. Top scorer Will Keane eventually returned and then did Emil Riis, whose red hot form led to Osmajic spending a bit of time on the bench.

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There are certainly aspects of the Montenegrin’s game which require improvement, but this is someone Preston forked out for and they’ve got to back him. He scored eight goals and played 36 games, so a steady platform has been set. Osmajic is evidently a threat when forward facing and there is space to exploit. He also latched on to a couple of crosses and scored with his head. Getting the most out of him is the challenge next season and - unlike last summer - there will be lots and lots of time to work closely with the 24-year-old.

Noah Mawene

It just seems in the youngster’s blood to give his absolute all every single day. Not that others do not, but Mawene sets high standards of himself and knows his work ethic has to be consistently excellent if he is to succeed at Preston. Lowe trusted the teenager to play in the Championship quite a few times last season, which must’ve got confidence bubbling. Mawene is a very grounded lad though, and will recognise the strides he must yet take.

The youngster’s professionalism and work rate has been recognised by team mates and he can never lose that. Hopefully Mawene can really make an impact in some of North End’s pre-season games, getting on the ball a little bit more and driving through the midfield - which was one of his stand out traits in the youth team.

Jack Whatmough

The centre-back did not have a bad first season at PNE by any means, but you would assume he’ll be determined to show more next season. Whatmough is a tough character who wants to help the team and win. He made 22 appearances last campaign and endured some injury frustration over the course of the season, too. The 27-year-old struggled to dislodge Jordan Storey at right centre-back and ever-present Liam Lindsay.

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It remains to be seen where he fits in best across that back three, but as an aerially dominant defender it could end up being in the middle. The defender will have earned brownie points from the manager for his stints in midfield last season, when North End were desperately short at the back end of the campaign. Whatmough stuck his chest out and gave it a go in there, which is not easy at all. The defender does not lack belief and will want to play a greater part in his second season at Deepdale.

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