Dave Seddon's PNE Press View: High-stakes gambling in the Championship
Deciding which way to lean in terms of who I wanted to win the Championship play-off final was almost a toss-of-the-coin moment.
Did I want Fulham to go up and lose a very enjoyable London away day – not to mention superb hospitality in the Craven Cottage press room – or would it best for Aston Villa to be promoted and get one of the big boys out of the division?
As it was, Fulham won 1-0 and on the balance of things I was pleased for them, the Cottagers being in my eyes worthy of their elevation to the Premier League.
Yes, I cursed them to high heaven when twice they scored late goals against Preston.
But credit where credit is due, I rated them far more highly than I did Cardiff who had gone up as runners-up to champions Wolves.
Fulham’s win left Villa facing a third campaign of Championship football.
From this writer’s point of view I’m not unhappy at that, Villa Park a fine venue and always worth a visit.
And Villa might not be the force they were.
A fortnight on from their Wembley woe, the cold hard facts of missing out on a top-flight return are hitting home hard at Villa.
They gambled big to get back to the Premier League, a missed tax payment the first sign of the financial cost of finishing as play-off final losers.
That can be the very stark reality of modern football, disappointment on the pitch leading to problems off it.
Villa are emerging as proof that chucking money at it isn’t necessarily the way of escaping the second tier.
It can work, Newcastle hanging on to their prized assets when they came down with Villa, and going straight back up.
Wolves spent a few quid this time and turned from a mid-table team overnight into one which romped away with the title.
By the looks of it, Stoke are going down the same route as Newcastle in terms of trying to secure a swift bounce back.
But when a gamble fails to come off, the consequences can be painful as Villa are now discovering.
How many other clubs are feeling the pinch having seen promotion elude them?
And will the financial fair play rules have caught any clubs out?
There is a balance to be struck when attempting to get from the Championship to the Premier League.
A budget helps but year after year it is shown that it is not a cast-iron guarantee.
It has been said before that the Championship is the hardest league to climb out of because of the size of the prize which awaits.
Everyone is chasing those wheelbarrows full of cash which the Premier League delivers regularly to the bank accounts of their clubs.
That chase is a lot more realistic for some than it is for others but every season probably more than half the division start off harbouring ambitions of promotion.
It’s a 46-game pursuit, the season regularly offering a Saturday/Tuesday schedule.
North End, as has been well documented, do things differently in their approach to achieve the Premier League dream.
They attract their critics in doing that but perhaps some might soften their attitude in light of what Villa are now facing.
What shape the Villans will be in when Preston go to Villa Park next season, is anyone’s guess.
The visits of the last two campaigns have been great from a PNE point of view.
Jordan Hugill scored the goal of the 2016/17 season there to spark a comeback and draw 2-2.
The 1-1 draw in February was arguably one of North End’s best performances but without the three points to show for it.
Tom Barkhuizen turned upside down to score with an overhead kick, only to give away an iffy penalty for the home side’s equaliser.
PNE’s preparations for next season continued apace this week, the new contract for Sean Maguire a welcome piece of news.
He put pen to paper on the deal almost a year to the day since his move here from Cork City was agreed.
It has been an eventful 12 months for the Irish striker and the general consensus is that there is plenty more to come from him.
To finish with 10 league goals in his first season in the Championship was pretty good going. Factor in that there was a four-month injury absence, and that tally looks even more impressive.
He came in ahead of last season on the back of more than six months of football in the League of Ireland and Europa League.
It meant match fitness was not a problem but there was an inevitability of a lull at some stage – unfortunately that came with the injury in October.
So the fact Maguire is stretched out on the sun lounger at the moment and enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation, can only be a good thing.
Young keeper Mathew Hudson was another this week to add his name to the list of those renewing their contracts.
The announcement of him signing on the dotted line was followed swiftly by Michael Crowe’s arrival from Ipswich.
The plan is to get Hudson out on loan to get the games he needs, Crowe coming in to cover him.
But it started tongues wagging that one of the two senior keepers could be on their way out.
The way I see it is that Crowe is next term’s Hudson, here as third choice and will be on the bench should one of the others get injured.
Hudson did just that when Declan Rudd missed four months of action.
It has been asked why three keepers are needed but it has been that way for the last three seasons.
Hudson has acted as cover since North End returned to the Championship.
Until a couple of years ago, there was the option of a dip into the loan market to get keeper cover in between the main transfer windows.
But with the emergency loan window no more, you can’t leave yourself short.