Adam Lord's Preston North End press view: Find the middle ground
It has been something of an up-and-down start to the season for Preston North End ahead of today's trip to face Derby County.
Four points from the opening 12 available is, by Alex Neil’s own admission, a disappointing first few weeks of the campaign.
After the 1-0 win over QPR to kick things off there was just one point from the games against Swansea and Stoke despite plenty of promising play against two sides relegated from the Premier League last season.
The defeat in South Wales and the 2-2 draw at Deepdale left Neil wondering what might have been had there been more of a clinical edge in the final third.
That issue reared its ugly head again in Norfolk on Wednesday night.
PNE had the better of the chances in a drab game at Carrow Road but Norwich struck twice in the final 10 minutes to send the Lilywhites away scratching their heads.
There are always fine margins.
If Callum Robinson’s shot hits the underside of the bar and goes over the line rather than bounces out then it’s a completely different game.
As it is, some slack defending gives Teemu Pukki the time to fire home the opener five minutes later and that was just about that, Alex Tettey’s stunner merely adding some gloss for the home side on a night where one goal was likely to settle matters.
Yes, it wasn’t a game that was easy on the eye, Neil admitted post-match that his shift to 4-4-2 stifled not only the home side but also his own team’s attacking potential.
But on a different night, with a shot that was a few inches lower, North End make it seven points from 12 and things look that bit rosier and all the talk is of ‘room for improvement’ heading to Pride Park today.
However, amongst certain sections of the fanbase, the knives were out at the final whistle.
First things first, I should say that absolutely everyone is entitled to an opinion, especially those hardy 320 supporters who made the long trip to Norfolk. But we seem to live in an age where everything is black and white.
Maybe it is social media and the ability everyone has to react instantly and vent their frustrations in a more direct manner than ever before.
A snap verdict is never a considered one.
Maybe it is that expectations are higher this season as North End look to turn seventh in the Championship to a spot in the play-offs and a shot at the top flight?
Perhaps, the snapshot of what I picked up on social media in the aftermath of Wednesday doesn’t reflect the views of the fanbase as a whole.
I’m well aware that plenty of supporters who have clasped their season tickets dearly for the last 50 years won’t have a Twitter account.
Still, more so than ever it is where we, the media, take a gauge of the mood on the terraces.
In my experience the truth rarely lies in the extremes.
Some who hailed Lukas Nmecha’s arrival as one of the signings of the summer are now writing him off as a flop after three games.
Others believe that after being one of the players of the year last time around Darnell Fisher is finished after a tough night at Carrow Road against Onel Hernandez.
There is a middle ground.
Nmecha is going to take time to find his way, given he has played so little senior football and will only turn 20 just 11 days before Christmas. Fisher put in one of his poorer performances during his time with North End but has proven time and again what a colossal full-back he can be on his day.
It was a poor performance but some of what I read suggested that PNE had been hammered 7-0 and were never in the game at any point.
One thing that most – me included – seemed to agree after the last few games is that Neil still needs more options in the final third.
The loss of both Sean Maguire and Billy Bodin prior to the season should not be underestimated.
The pair in Neil’s eyes were ready to make their mark at the top end of the Championship after promising first full campaigns in the second tier.
Nmecha and Manchester City team-mate Brandon Barker have arrived but will take time. With Louis Moult also having limited experience at this level, there is most certainly room for more.
A targetman has been talked about all summer and Neil does still want to do business before the window definitively shuts on Friday evening.
An interesting few days may lie ahead, with the need for more reinforcements potentially brought into sharper focus over the last couple of weeks.
One thing this striker pursuit has proved is what a commodity PNE had in Jordan Hugill before his move to West Ham.
The big frontman, back in the Championship on loan at Middlesbrough, was another who attracted a wide range of extreme opinions.
Massively overrated? The best No.9 around?
I’d venture the reality lay somewhere in between during his time at Deepdale.