Dave Seddon's PNE Press View

Second guessing Preston North End boss Alex Neil ahead of the team sheet being published can be a tricky job.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 16th December 2017, 8:00 am
Preston North End's Tom Clarke celebrates scoringagainst burton Albion with Darnell Fisher and Paul Gallagher
Preston North End's Tom Clarke celebrates scoringagainst burton Albion with Darnell Fisher and Paul Gallagher

Very much a manager who likes the horses for courses approach, the bulk of the team will stay the same from game to game but often he catches us off guard with a change or two.

None more so at left-back which has had six different incumbents this season.

Greg Cunningham, Josh Earl, Calum Woods, Kevin O’Connor, Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher have all had stints of varying lengths on that side of the back four.

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Injuries have forced Neil’s hand to a significant degree, both Cunningham and Earl having had operations.

Cunningham started the season as North End’s first-choice left-back, indeed he was stand-in skipper too.

When muscle separated from tendon at the back of his leg, that took him out of the picture for a significant time.

In fact he’s still sidelined although hopefully it should not be too long before he is able to start training.

Earl was the surprise choice at the time to take the place of Cunningham, only because of his young age and inexperience.

However, the teenager slotted in comfortably and had a 12-game run in the team before suffering a knee injury.

O’Connor was the next to fill the left-back role, with Woods, Davies and latterly Fisher playing there.

Having been signed from Cork City together with Sean Maguire in the summer, it was expected that O’Connor would feature prominently .

The Irishman’s chance came during that bad run of injuries when defenders were dropping like flies.

It was a tough time to come in and perhaps he didn’t cover himself in glory in the 3-0 defeat at Ipswich last month.

However, he did a decent enough job when he played the second-half of the win over Queens Park Rangers a fortnight ago.

And there was a cameo for him towards the end of the visit to Burton last week.

Left-footed, he provides balance in the full-back role but looks to still be adapting to the English game and what is required by Neil.

During his couple of games on the left, Woods looked comfortable enough.

It is a position we have seen him play before, notably the play-off final at Wembley.

Since Woods was ruled out by a strain picked up in training, Davies and Fisher have been shifted over to the left.

Davies lasted 45 minutes of the QPR contest before moving back to the middle.

It is funny that just three or four months ago, Davies was in the eyes of many fans a left-back – that the position they had seen him play in the past in between his loan spells away from the club.

But central defence is where Davies will carve-out a career for himself.

Fisher playing left-back was the curve ball thrown our way at Burton.

Neil had seen him play the role for Rotherham when in charge at Norwich and gave him that role last week.

It was a way of getting Tom Clarke in the team too, Fisher vacating the right-back shirt for the skipper to take.

That way, the Davies and Paul Huntington pairing at centre-half could remain in place, with Clarke able to start for the second running since his return from injury.

That selection was to a large extent justified when Clarke put Preston ahead in the second half.

He clearly likes the tight surroundings of the Pirelli Stadium, that his second goal there in 11 months, the one Clarke got in January also coming from right-back.

At least Neil now has the choice of who to play in PNE’s defence, he has the numbers to tweak and move things around.

Where he goes next with the left-back role, we will see when Sheffield United are in town – it is not one I would like to second guess.

Away from the pitch, the big story at North End this week was the completion of the deal which will bring Louis Moult to Deepdale in January.

Tying the move up more than two weeks before the transfer window opens has to be applauded.

Of course we will have to wait until New Year’s day for it all to be made official, but the appetite has been whetted.

Moult’s impending arrival has been well received by the North End fans, judging by what I have seen on social media and from having a chat with some of them.

He seems a grounded lad, someone who has battled to find his way up the football ladder.

Moult brings with him a very decent scoring record, a one-in-two ratio at his last three clubs – albeit not at Championship level.

I see the deal in a similar vein to that of Sean Maguire’s arrival in the summer, in that Moult comes with a decent pedigree but still having much to prove.

The announcement of his signing raised the obvious question as to what the future holds for Jordan Hugill.

Is Moult a replacement for Hugill or will they be strike force partners?

I hope it is the latter, even if just until the summer.

With Maguire due back in late February, there is the potential for a very decent forward line.