Preston North End's season in review: Mid-table finish doesn't tell the tale of all that went on at Deepdale in 2021/22

The 2021/22 season was a significant one for Preston North End even if their mid-table finish indicates otherwise.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 13th May 2022, 4:45 pm

Supporters returned to Deepdale after a 17-month absence, the death of PNE owner Trevor Hemmings was mourned and there was a change in the manager’s office which offers the faithful optimism going forward.

It was a campaign which could be divided roughly into two halves, Frankie McAvoy holding the head coach role for 21 Championship matches and Ryan Lowe overseeing 25 as manager.

North End were on 25 points when McAvoy was sacked at the beginning of December, Lowe moved them on to 64 by the time the curtain came down last Saturday.

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Cameron Archer celebrates scoring Preston North End's winner against Blackpool at Deepdale

Reflecting on that first half of the season, hindsight shows last summer wasn’t the greatest in terms of recruitment to say the least.

The returns of Sepp van den Berg and Daniel Iversen for second loan spells were the high points of recruitment, Ali McCann five seconds before the transfer deadline a big plus too.

In between, however, came Izzy Brown, Matthew Olosunde, Josh Murphy and Connor Wickham.

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Preston North End player ratings for the 2021/22 season
Frankie McAvoy and Jurgen Klopp on the Deepdale touchline during Preston North End's clash with Liverpool in the Carabao Cup

Pre-season looked exciting on paper but fans saw very little of it live – the Bamber Bridge friendly flooded out, the two Scottish friendlies at St Johnstone and Celtic limited to a handful of home supporters.

Manchester City went behind closed doors, Manchester United didn’t happen at all – pulled at the last moment by the visitors due to a Covid scare.

Excitement nevertheless built for the opening day clash with Hull City at Deepdale, Emil Riis giving PNE the perfect start with an early goal.

They lost 4-1 and lost the next two in the league at Reading and Huddersfield.

Preston North End and their fans celebrate Ali McCann's winner at Bournemouth last November

Already sections of the fanbase were growing restless, wins in the Carabao Cup at Mansfield and Morecambe settling things, with back-to-back victories coming in the league against Peterborough and Swansea.

September was a month of draws. Early in October Mr Hemmings passed away suddenly, sadness sweeping over Deepdale as tributes poured in from the football, horse racing and business world.

Blackpool away later that month was a disaster, PNE serving-up a lukewarm performance on a day when it should have red hot.

McAvoy never really recovered although holding out against Liverpool until well into the second half in the cup and a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth – popping the Cherries’ unbeaten bubble – brought him time.

Brad Potts celebrates scoring for Preston North End against Stoke at the bet365 Stadium in January

That time was up for him after another derby defeat, this time to Blackburn at Ewood Park on December 4. The Scot was sacked 48 hours later and in came Lowe the next day, lured away from Plymouth Argyle.

Lowe was a totally different character with a different accent and a different job title.

He started with two wins against Barnsley and Stoke, split by a three-week Covid-enforced break before and after Christmas.

Brad Potts went from zero to hero with the fans when he volleyed PNE’s equaliser at Stoke on the day he played at right wing-back for the first time.

His celebration jumping into the away end was a lifting a frustrating and echoed the feeling of the faithful.

Stoke was the first of some good away days under Lowe, with North End winning at West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthorns home for the first time since the early 1970s.

Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe celebrates with the PNE supporters at Deepdale

Cameron Archer scored the second that night on his Preston debut after signing on loan from Aston Villa. A loan star was born.

Archer netted the winner away from home two Saturdays running at Hull and Peterborough, both watched by big away followings who were enjoying their football again.

The double was completed over Bournemouth with a late winner from top scorer Emil Riis, fair play to McAvoy for doing the first part of that job on the south coast four months earlier.

PNE’s biggest night of the season was Tuesday, April 5. Sir Tom Finney would have been 100. Blackpool came to visit and were beaten 1-0 with an Archer goal in first-half stoppage-time.

It wasn’t just about the victory on the pitch, off it the North End fans roared themselves hoarse and created a superb atmosphere. Supporters and club were backed as one that evening.

Standards slipped as Fulham put three and Blackburn four past PNE in successive games as the finish line to the season loomed into view.

Lowe demanded a reaction from the squad and got it on Gentry Day at Barnsley, a Daniel Johnson double and another Riis goal honouring the travelling Gentry and those who now watch from a different place.

Middlesbrough arrived on the final day with a chance of making the play-offs but North End were too good for them, the 4-1 win their biggest winning margin of the season.

Riis got to 21 goals for the campaign, plenty of others shone. In the 79th minute Deepdale rose to welcome Paul Huntington on to the pitch for one last time as a Preston player.

The Cumbrian Cannavaro is taking his black boots and sock pulling-up elsewhere this summer after 10 seasons and 306 games with PNE. Farewell Hunts you legend.

Lowe now starts the rebuilding for next season, last Monday’s retained list carrying the names of 13 players who are being freed and three more transfer-listed.

North End have finished 13th two seasons running, this campaign’s placing secured with three more points than last year.

The expectation for 2022/23 is much increased, this summer a big one as the foundations are laid.