Dave Seddon's PNE Press View: Pear-shaped without Pearson?
Although Ben Pearson did not kick a ball for Preston in the draw with Birmingham last week, he was still a hot topic of conversation.
‘No Pearo, no party’ was the argument after North End surrendered midfield to the Blues and were fortunate indeed to take a point.
Pearson was missing due to injury, his presence badly missed in the engine room.
With the midfielder a yellow card away from a two-match ban on his return, the debate over his importance to the side could come to the table again.
There is no arguing against the fact that the former Manchester United reserve is a vital cog in the Preston works – perhaps the key cog.
However, the statistics from this season do show that North End can cope without Pearson to a point, if replaced more like-for-like.
That was the issue against Birmingham, with Preston not having a tackler in there, a ‘ratter’ to break up play.
Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson and Josh Harrop bring plenty to the team but tackling isn’t a strong point for any of the trio.
Alan Browne and John Welsh were sat on the bench, Browne until Jordan Hugill got a bang on the head and Welsh for the entirety.
Had one of those two been in midfield from the start, would PNE have got more of a grip on midfield and made more of a fight of it?
Pearson has missed nine Championship games this season through either injury or suspension.
North End lost just one of those, that the 1-0 defeat at Derby County in August.
Of the other eight, they won three and drew five.
That is quite encouraging but having Pearson available for all of them might have tipped some of those draws into wins.
The common link in the eight games they didn’t lose without Pearson was either Browne or Welsh.
One or the other of them replaced him in the holding midfield role.
Pearson missed all six games in September, PNE winning three and drawing three.
In the 1-1 draw against Barnsley, Browne was paired with Gallagher in the centre of midfield.
Against Cardiff four days later, a game North End won 3-0, it was Browne and Welsh in the holding roles in a 4-2-3-1. Welsh had one of his best games for a long time that night, Browne scoring with a 45-yard shot.
The 3-1 away victory over Birmingham saw Browne and Johnson on midfield duty.
It was Welsh and DJ in the middle against Millwall at Deepdale, a game which ended in a goalless draw.
They got the nod again at Hull City, Browne handed the No.10 role that night and impressing in a 2-1 win.
September’s final game against Sunderland saw Browne and DJ together in midfield.
When suspension kept Pearson out at Norwich in November, it was actually Gallagher and Johnson who played as the holding two.
But they had Browne just ahead of them in the 10 role, offering a safety net.
Going back to the Derby game which North End lost in Pearson’s absence – the legacy of a red card at Leeds – Alex Neil went for a 3-4-3 system with Browne and DJ in the middle.
Browne and Welsh seem one answer, the other being a dip into the transfer market.
The bid for Ryan Ledson and continued pursuit of the Oxford man, are an indicator that he is seen as something similar to Pearson.
It is two years since PNE signed Pearson, an arrival which was well received but without anyone going really overboard about it.
He had a steady start in the second half of the 2015/16 campaign then had to wait two months of the next season for his chance in the first team.
Pearson has not looked back since and if there is one player in the North End squad you would not want to sell, surely it would be him.
The regular bookings are annoying, an inconvenience which PNE could do without.
Off the pitch, Pearson is as unassuming as they come, on it he is a different beast and clearly an inspiration.
Meanwhile, the big deal of the transfer window to date has been the swap between Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Swap deals are pretty rare in the modern game but they were once fairly common.
It got me thinking about some of the exchanges PNE had done in the past.
The swap involving Alex Bruce and John Bird in the summer of 1975 led to Bobby Charlton resigning as North End boss in protest at losing Bird to Newcastle.
In 1977, Mark Lawrenson and Gary Williams went to Brighton in exchange for Harry Wilson and Graham Cross.
Like the Bruce and Bird deal, Preston and Newcastle swapped again in 1989 – the Magpies getting PNE striker Gary Brazil in exchange for Ian Bogie.
A year later, North End got Nigel Greenwood back from Bury – they had sold him in 1986 to fund the rebuilding of the squad – Mark Patterson going the other way.
Another player to return to Deepdale in a swap deal was Tony Ellis in 1992, Stoke City getting Graham Shaw back for a second time in part-exchange.