Dave Seddon's PNE Press View: John Welsh left everything on the pitch during six great years
The beard has come and gone a few times but that aside, John Welsh has been a picture of consistency in his six seasons in a Preston North End shirt.
You knew what you were going to get from Welsh on a matchday – a wholehearted performance in which he left everything on the pitch.
Time has now been called on the Liverpudlian’s time at Deepdale – he will be leaving this summer at the end of his contract.
Welsh played 176 games for North End – I use the past tense as injury will prevent a last appearance on Sunday.
He has spanned the reigns of Graham Westley, Simon Grayson and Alex Neil, a trio of managers with different approaches to the game.
But Welsh managed to fit in with what they all wanted, even this season under Neil when more miles were on the clock.
Remember how good he was against Cardiff back in September when North End inflicted a first defeat of the campaign on the Bluebirds?
Likewise at Hull City too a couple of weeks later when he was the midfield sitter in the absence of Ben Pearson.
Last season was to end by October for Welsh when he badly tore a calf muscle in the 2-2 draw at Brighton.
Just a fortnight earlier, he had produced a fine display in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa.
Go back to the early weeks of that campaign and it was Welsh who helped inspire a first Championship victory of the season at QPR.
In the four seasons before that, Welsh more often than not was a starter, Preston’s heartbeat in midfield.
The highlight had to be Wembley. Who can forget Welsh’s tackle on Nathan Byrne which led to the second goal in the 4-0 win over Swindon? The ball was 60/40 in the Swindon man’s favour but Welsh slid in to win it cleanly, Paul Gallagher then able to cross for Paul Huntington to score from close range.
Welsh, sporting a beard the size of a badger, was to lift the trophy with Tom Clarke in the Royal Box an hour or so later.
It was in the summer of 2012 that Welsh arrived at Deepdale on a Bosman.
He had left Tranmere at the end of his contract, the Prenton Park outfit a League One side then.
That was a summer of change, the North End squad swelled with new faces as Graham Westley oversaw what he described at the time as a ‘revolution’.
We were drip-fed a new name every couple of days and Welsh was first off the rank when it came to the list of arrivals.
I recall researching his background and a quote from Ronnie Moore, the Tranmere boss of the time, stood out.
Moore said: “Welsh is the one no one speaks about, the invisible man who does the job well.
“Every week he goes about his job, covers a lot of ground, stops the opposition and does the simple things very well. You need someone who does that.”
Those words from Moore were to ring so true, Welsh being the grafter which every side needs.
He wasn’t the invisible man to PNE fans though, with them appreciating very much what he brought to the midfield.
The good luck tweets and messages which followed Thursday’s announcement that he would be leaving Deepdale, were an indication of what Welsh meant to the Preston faithful.
From a journalistic point of view, he is great to deal with – there is no such thing as a two-minute interview with him.
One interview had to be delayed by a couple of days, after Welsh won player of the year in 2013.
Awards night was on the Sunday after the season had finished the day before.
Let’s just say a few too many shandies had been sunk among the squad in the intervening hours.
Welsh’s acceptance speech was short and sweet that evening, the interview to reflect on it delayed until the Tuesday afternoon!
Moving back to the present day and he will seek pastures new over the next few weeks.
If a manager is looking for an experienced head who can still do a job in the engine room, Welsh is your man.
His Deepdale send-off will come before kick-off against Burton on Sunday.
Fingers crossed, we will all be back, Welsh included, next Friday night for the first leg of the play-offs.
North End have been like a dog with a bone when it comes to trying to get into the Championship’s top six.
They had a month’s taste of it in the autumn but haven’t been in the play-off places since late October.
While PNE slipped as low as 14th briefly, in general they have stayed in touch with the play-off zone.
Last Saturday they were the survivors in a pivotal day in the top-six push.
Four clubs dropped out of the running – Sheffield United by reason of defeat to Neil’s men, Millwall, Bristol City and Brentford.
It left North End as the only challengers to Derby for sixth place.
The odds are in the Rams’ favour going into the final day but stranger things have happened.
If Neil’s men could beat Burton and then Derby lose to Barnsley, what timing that would be to return to the top six after six months away.