Dave Seddon's PNE Press View: Alex Neil's happy anniversary
There was no big fanfare, no cake, but this week saw Alex Neil celebrate a year in the Preston job.
Even with just 12 months under his belt, Neil is the 52nd longest-serving boss in the top four tiers of English football.
Neil isn’t one for too much fuss, hence no shouting from the rooftops about the first anniversary.
It wasn’t a bad first year was it? In fact you say it was a very good one and with a touch more luck could have been even more fruitful.
He led North End to their highest finish in nine years and had the team within reach a play-off place right up to the final game of last season.
The bar was raised and is now set high for the 2018/19 campaign which kicks off in a month’s time.
Managing PNE was always going to be an attractive job when the vacancy arose last summer.
The timing wasn’t great, Simon Grayson choosing to leave for Sunderland before the first sprint of pre-season training had been done.
Numerous CVs landed in the Deepdale inbox, the phone line red hot with agents touting their clients.
Neil applied but had a headstart in that North End were already looking at him.
Two promotions saw him stand out, one of them from this level with Norwich.
When PNE had recruited Grayson in 2013, the fact he had previously guided three clubs to promotion from League One featured heavily in the recruitment process.
The same train of thought applied here, just in a higher division.
Neil took the job a few days into pre-season and wasted little time getting his teeth into the task.
He didn’t come in looking to reinvent the wheel, more to tweak things to his liking and put his stamp on things.
The Scotsman wanted to get his ideas across quickly, hence him cutting a rather impatient figure at times in last year’s friendlies – water bottle hitting the floor of the technical area with some force, a common occurrence.
But last August’s first-day victory over Sheffield Wednesday was proof that the players had picked up what he wanted.
Losing just one of the first 12 Championship matches showed that the message had been received loud and clear.
There were bumps in the road during the season, the defensive injury crisis of late October and early November a point in case.
That exposed the need for more depth in the quality of cover.
There were too many Deepdale draws, home points dropped due to a lack of ruthlessness in and around the box.
But on the whole it was a season of growth under Neil, 13 points taken from the final 15 on offer a total contrast to how Preston had stumbled over the finishing line a year earlier.
Preparations to do it all over again and to kick on are already under way.
The squad are a week or so into pre-season training, the first friendly at Bamber Bridge upon us.
A superb World Cup has our attention, allowing North End’s build-up to continue in the background almost.
Neil spoke of expectation levels when addressing the local media at Springfields this week.
He is fine with the levels and understands the desire of fans for the team to take that step higher.
Hard graft, on and off the pitch, can take PNE in the right direction says Neil.
Coupled with that is the fact many of the squad have another year of experience to call upon. There are many reasons to be optimistic that Neil’s second year can be better than the very good first one.
It is a fact of life that in trying to get to the Premier League, Neil will be trying to outfox managers who boast a bigger budget.
That is an observation, not an excuse, and Neil seems to relish the challenge.
Money will never be far from the conversation when it comes to clubs pushing to get into the top flight.
Either you’ve spent a lot of the stuff or are perceived not to have spent enough.
Financial Fair Play rules are meant to govern how much clubs throw at a punt at the Premier League.
However, it is looking more and more like FFP is not worth the paper its rules are printed on.
This week the Football League put out a statement to say a ‘settlement’ of £4.75m had been reached between Bournemouth and the league over the Cherries’ deemed breach of FFP in the 2014/15 season when they were promoted to the Premier League.
The league said that they acknowledged the breach had not been deliberate, but what message does that send out?
A monetary penalty is no deterrent for breaching FFP, if a club were able to chuck the cash at it in the first place, they wouldn’t struggle to pay a fine.
In July 2018, what is £4.75m to Bournemouth? It would probably buy the left knee of a transfer target.
They are approaching their fourth season in the top flight and in this case, does the punishment fit the crime? I don’t think it does.
For FFP to work, football authorities need to bring in points’ deductions for it to be taken seriously – a fine will barely be noticed.