Tom Sandells’ Preston North End Press View: Dig in for the long haul

And so it begins. North End are now heading into what is for their most important period of the season.

By Tom Sandells
Friday, 19th November 2021, 4:45 pm

This is traditionally a tough run from the final international break of the year through until March.

Throw in too the unforgiving festive fixtures which can be the undoing of many a side.

Factor in that North End have not been without their injury troubles too, which then puts further pressure and strain on those involved, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

The mood after victory at Bournemouth (above) was quickly deflated by the performance in defeat at Nottingham Forest

It has not been smooth sailing up until this point either, this is not the first busy run.

The biggest difference now is that there is no break, there is no opportunity to step away and regroup.

There is no opportunity to switch off for a couple of days and take stock, the Championship will not allow it.

As this is not the first test, it stands to reason there have been passes and fails.

Unfortunately most recently there have been more fails than passes, particularly in the big moments like the derby against Blackpool and at Nottingham Forest in front of a sold-out away end.

With that, tensions have risen.

They were not too bad at the start of the season, that inspite of the first few hiccups.

An opening-day defeat to Hull City – part of a run of three league defeats – was happily put behind them, up to a point.

A run of six draws, punctuated by one defeat, in the league is where things turned sour.

Since then fans have increasingly voiced their discontent, be it at the head coach or at those above him.

One benefit of the international break, even if you are like me and are not one to watch England run up double figures against a team of unfortunate part-time players, is that it gives everyone the chance to calm down.

Emotions run high in football, whether in a positive way or not.

Some clubs will have been desperate for the break to come, others – who were in good form – less so.

At PNE at the moment it can almost become a bit of a grind. When performances are lacklustre, the doubters’ voices are more clearly heard.

It creates a downcast or downbeat mood around the games.

For all the good work done on the Wednesday night to turn over league leaders Bournemouth in their own back yard, everyone was brought right back down to earth with the 3-0 humbling against Forest.

But that does not take away the good performance three days prior, nor how Preston were tactically spot on.

It is often said that you are only as good as your last game, in which case PNE are not up to much.

But the mood after negative games seems to last longer than after the good ones.

When there is no pause and game after game comes along, with neither the players, head coach or fans getting time to take a step back, it can become a toxic environment.

Now is the time to take stock before emotions run high again, as they will.

It is 17 weeks before the next international break which means lots of games and lots of travelling is on the horizon.

It will take it out of all involved. Whether that is the fans and how tough it gets for them, spending money to follow their team and the emotional rollercoaster that brings, or the players and head coach going through the range of emotions.

There appears to be a divide between the supporters and the club at the moment, less of a unity and a ‘we’re in this together’ atmosphere.

That will be needed to get through the next few months as there will be bad results – that is a given.

It’s sad to see the level of apathy that some supporters have towards the game, that they seem worn down. Likewise it is difficult to see players try hard, yet come away visibly gutted or frustrated.

This will be a real test of character over the next few months. The club is at a crucial point.

The fan base is split on those in charge at the top of the club, some fans are just not being bothered enough to turn up, and we now have four months of back-to-back games.

But it can also be seen as an opportunity, should PNE put a good run together in this middle period of the season – as they have done in the past – everything could be transformed.

Couple that with a good winter transfer window, and a couple more contracts tied up and things could look very different come March.

But a strong start will be needed.

A win against Cardiff this weekend will be massive, as will keeping Emil Riis in form, finding solidity at the back, whilst also being good to watch going forward – the latter two happened towards the end of last season.

It’s time to prepare for a long old slog but when has following PNE ever been easy?