Ben Pearson hoping his return from suspension can spark an upturn in results for Preston North End
Ben Pearson is not hiding away from the predicament Preston North End find themselves in.
The Lilywhites are bottom of the Championship after a rotten start to the new season with the division’s top scorers West Bromwich Albion in town on Saturday.
It looks a daunting prospect, given PNE have the worst defensive record in the league despite encouraging signs against Sheffield United last time out in the league and Middlesbrough in the League Cup.
Pearson admits North End are fragile mentally at the moment as they look to stop the rot but knows a positive result against the Baggies could go a long way to turning things around and getting their season going.
“At the start you do just think, ‘It’s early days’ but now it’s getting to the point where we do need to start winning,” said the midfielder, who returned from suspension against Boro at Deepdale on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think anyone is panicking just yet but we need performances and results quickly.
“We’ll be taking it one game at a time and if we win on Saturday then more than anything it will just give us a bit of confidence.
“It’s shattered at the minute – you can see it in players and in the team in general.
“When you’re losing and the pressure is on to win you have to do everything to win the game and it can take aspects of your game away when you are just trying not to make a mistake.
“The only way you can get confident is by winning games though.”
That will be easier said than done though with West Bromwich, relegated from the Premier League last season after a lengthy stay in the top flight, underlining their promotion credentials in the early weeks of the season.
Darren Moore’s men are third ahead of visiting Deepdale, an attack spearheaded by Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle having fired in 22 goals in the opening nine games.
“It will be a tough game,” said Pearson.
“They’ve got one of, if not the, best squad in the league.
“I think they’ve kept hold of most of the players they had in the Premier League and they’re the highest scorers.
“We’re confident after the last two performances but regardless of how we play it’s just about getting wins now.
“It might be quite open and our biggest issue at the moment is conceding goals.
“That’s something that we’ve got to look at.
“Keeping a clean sheet on Saturday is the main priority and if we do that we don’t lose the game. It’s as simple as that.
“In terms of scoring goals we’ve been fine, we’ve got two a game for the last four games, but in defence we’re struggling.
“We just need to iron out those mistakes.
“I’m confident we’ll get there and we’ll be fine.”
Pearson’s return may be key to an increased defensive solidity.
The midfielder has been a vital cog for Alex Neil since his arrival at the club with his absence for the last three games keenly felt.
While keen to point out his qualities going forwards, the former Manchester United man knows where he will be needed most between now and the international break a week on Saturday.
A trip to Aston Villa next Tuesday night follows the WBA game, with Wigan then the visitors to Deepdale on October 6.
“I have been described as a tackling midfielder but I’d say my passing is the best part of my game,” Pearson said.
“That and probably reading the game. I prefer to get on the ball and pass it around rather than just tackle everyone.
“I can do a bit of both but at the moment I’ve probably got to be a bit more defensive and make sure we’re not vulnerable at the back rather than being a bit more expansive and running forward to try and create things.
“Over the next couple of games I’ll probably do that a little bit more.
“I just play my own game and if it helps the team, it helps the team.
“I’ve got a role in the side where I need to defend and help us build the play. I’m used to that now.”
The first straight red card of Pearson’s career came after a headbutt on Bolton Wanderers’ Joe Williams after the 2-2 draw at Deepdale on September 1.
The 23-year-old admitted watching from the sidelines as the Lilywhites struggled, Neil’s side still without a win in the league since the opening day, was tough to take.
“It’s not been nice,” the No.4 admitted.
“When you miss three games it’s quite a big chunk and you lose the momentum you’ve built up over the first five or six games.
“The international break didn’t help either.
“If you have games Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday then it’s done in a week.
“It was disappointing to miss the games but I’m back now and that was all forgotten about.
“All you want to do is play football.
“It’s never nice to be watching from the sidelines or training with the lads and then sitting a game out.
“When you’re not winning it’s even worse.
“But I’m back out there now and hopefully we can start winning some games.”
The return came in the shoot-out defeat to Tony Pulis’ Boro on Tuesday night with Pearson encouraged by what he saw.
The midfielder was one of three changes made by Neil from the defeat at Sheffield United and it was as if he had never been away.
“It was a cup game and was a little bit different with them playing a weaker side,” said Pearson, who started every game in the Championship before his suspension.
“It was good to get back out there though, it was three weeks since I’d played.
“It’s about getting in the rhythm of things and start picking up again.
“It was a better performance against Middlesbrough than we’ve had of late.
“We played well in the second half at Sheffield United as well so we’re getting a bit more confident.
“We need to just take those performances and turn them into points now.”