Dave Seddon's Preston North End pressview: Learning curve for Manchester City loanee Lukas Nmecha
Learning curve is a buzz phrase in football, with teams, managers, players and coaches all having been on one at some stage or another.
It is a go-to summary in particular when someone is going through or has come through a sticky patch.
The first two months of Lukas Nmecha’s loan with Preston certainly fits the learning curve analogy.
Nmecha has experienced more in his few weeks in the Championship than he ever would have imagined.
He will be better for it too and the signs from the last two North End games are that he is coming to terms to what this level is about.
It is fair comment that when the teenager put pen to paper on his season-long loan from Manchester City, it caught the imagination of PNE supporters.
Held in the highest regard by City and fresh from their pre-season tour to the United States, this was a big step in Nmecha’s career and North End stole a march on several clubs to get him.
He was needed to cover the loss of Sean Maguire to a hamstring injury and add firepower to the squad.
Nmecha was pitched straight in for his debut on a wet afternoon at Swansea and showed glimpses of what he was about in the Liberty Stadium defeat.
But in the handful of matches which followed, he struggled to display similar signs.
Suddenly he was being compared to other Premier League loanees who North End have had who didn’t quite set the place alight.
Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck both arrived at Deepdale at similar stages in their careers.
They offered glimpses of what they would go on to be about but didn’t fully fire.
Then again, with young lads on loan you are not going to get the finished article – far from it.
That is why you get them on loan, to help knock off the rough edges and learn about the game.
While they might be hot prospects in Premier League clubs’ development set-ups, first-team football is a much different beast and takes some getting used to.
Back to Nmecha, a knee injury meant he wasn’t involved for two games and Alex Neil had not seen enough from him in training after his recovery to bring him back for the West Bromwich Albion game.
Against Aston Villa though, Nmecha arrived at the Preston party.
He was in party mood again in the win over Wigan.
There were still no goals from him but in those two games, the teenager played like a man.
Nmecha spoke well when he sat down in front of the media after the Wigan game.
Either the lad himself or one of the reporters used the learning curve phrase in the discussion about his time so far in a Preston shirt.
He admitted it had taken time for him to adapt his game to what was needed – when to press, when to drop, when to hold the ball up, when to spin down the channel and get behind the opposition’s defence.
Those things took a bit of learning, while he needed to read his team-mates’ game better.
In the first half at Villa when North End were out of sorts, Nmecha was the one bright light.
When the whole team discovered their mojo after the break, he grew further into the game.
Wigan found him a right handful a few days later, his pace particularly troubling them.
How a penalty wasn’t awarded when Nmecha was upended by Cedric Kipre in the first half last Saturday, I do wonder.
It was more clear-cut than the one which was given late in the contest.
The next stage of Nmecha’s learning curve is to carry the form of the last two games into a consistent run after the international break.
He needs goals – after all that is what strikers are judged on.
Should Nmecha build on recent performances in the weeks ahead, it does take the heat off Maguire in terms of coming back unrushed from his damaged hamstring.
It was a delight to see the Irishman back on the pitch for the last 20 minutes of the Wigan game.
But if Nmecha’s form can hold up, it would allow Maguire to make a phased return.
That approach worked well last season when he came back from surgery to repair his hamstring. He had two games off the bench, scored in them both, before being risked from the start.
A fully match-fit Maguire, Nmecha adding goals to his game and Callum Robinson continuing his good form, would provide grounds for optimism in terms of North End climbing the table.
Bearing in mind Maguire has 20 minutes of football under his belt and Nmecha is yet to score, North End’s scoring record is pretty good.
They are the division’s seventh-highest scorers, with eight players finding the net.
But even with 18 goals in the ‘for’ column, PNE have a minus-six goal difference.
Hence how welcome the clean sheet against Wigan was, one achieved with yet another defensive pairing as Jordan Storey and skipper Tom Clarke got the nod.
It goes without saying that many more are required to help the recovery.