Dave Seddon's Preston North End verdict: Sieve of a defence is the root of the problem
Fingers are being pointed left, right and centre as Preston languish at the bottom of the Championship.
The manager, the owner, the advisor, formations and tactics have all come under scrutiny in response to what has been a dreadful first two months of the season.
Supporters will have their individual opinions on what has gone askew.
Whatever direction your accusing finger is pointed in, the common factor is that PNE are heading into October with a paltry five points from 10 league outings.
Bearing in mind three of those were gathered on the opening afternoon, things have headed south alarmingly.
Saturday’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion was their fourth league reverse on the bounce and brought a poor September to a finish.
North End are looking up at the rest of the division and it is not a pleasant view.
You could look at the loss to the Baggies in a couple of ways when seeking clues from it.
Do you take some comfort from the fact that Alex Neil’s men matched their visitors for parts of the game, only for a drop in concentration and a bit of luck to go against them?
Or is it rather alarming that the Lilywhites have not been terrible this season but still find themselves propping up the rest?
They were better against Albion than they had been when beaten by Reading, Leeds and Sheffield United over the last fortnight.
But it was still not enough to avoid another defeat and a fragile confidence is there to see, the by-product of a poor run of results.
For 45 minutes they were solid, largely keeping at arm’s length a Baggies side who had arrived from the Midlands scoring at will.
Chris Maxwell had to come to the rescue twice with good saves but North End were not without their chances either, Ryan Ledson striking the post with the scoreline goalless.
However, conceding three minutes into the second half was not in the script.
They chased an equaliser and got one, only to concede in the most unfortunate of circumstances just two minutes later.
A late third Albion goal was to effectively clinch the win for Albion, an injury-time header from Alan Browne too late in the day to affect the result.
The debate over whether enough money has been invested in the squad is one which will continue to run for some time – one look at the table will suggest not and add weight to the argument of those who feel North End were somewhat left behind in the transfer market over the summer.
But looking at this from purely a football point of view and putting cash issues to one side, it is not difficult to see where things are going wrong.
PNE are leaking goals at an average of more than two a game in the Championship.
In the current sequence of defeats they have conceded three goals each time.
Scoring at the other end has not been a difficultly, with Neil’s men finding the net twice in three of the games – the 3-0 loss at Leeds was the exception.
But a sieve of a defence means the better work at the other end of the pitch is going to waste.
Neil has been chopping and changing to try and come up with a solution.
And perhaps that is part of the problem, with the backline not a settled one.
The defence against WBA was by my reckoning the eighth different one used in the league this term.
Jordan Storey was given his first league start, with Paul Huntington and Ben Davies for company in the middle.
Neil saw a 3-5-2 as the best way to cope with Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle.
Both found the net although Gayle’s late strike came direct from a free-kick.
In between was a Davies own goal, the ball unluckily flying in off his head.
That could not be in any way attributed to the system but was indicative of the bad luck teams tend to have when stuck on runs like this.
At the top end of the 3-5-2 were Callum Robinson and Brandon Barker.
We have become accustomed to seeing Robinson playing centrally, however for Barker this was something new.
The loanee was not able to have an impact on the game like he had done from a wide role against Middlesbrough.
North End lost Robinson’s services to a jarred knee early in the second half, the main threat taken away.
The fact they managed to still score twice was therefore commendable, although the second was so late in the day that it mattered little.
Mindful that Albion had scored 22 league goals, Neil went for a disciplined shape to Preston’s play.
They probably shaded the first half in terms of moving the ball better, the visitors edging the chance count.
Maxwell’s save to tip over Kyle Bartley’s header from four yards early in the contest was excellent, the block with his legs to deny Harvey Barnes none too shabby either.
In between, Ledson hit a shot from inside the ‘D’ which struck the foot of the post.
The solidity shown in the first half was not in evidence after the break.
The visitors went ahead in the 48th minute, with Jake Livermore allowed to move unchallenged for 10 yards down the right before sending over a cross. RODRIGUEZ stole in front of Storey to send a header past Maxwell.
Back came PNE to level in the 71st minute, a foul on Ben Pearson seeing them awarded a free-kick 20 yards out.
It was taken left-footed by HUGHES, with the Welshman keeping it low and finding the far bottom corner.
But continuing the theme from recent games, North End conceded again quickly.
Two minutes after Hughes scored, a Craig Dawson cross looped off Davies’ head and over Maxwell.
GAYLE found the net with a free-kick from 25 yards in the 88th minute, sparking a mass exodus from the home stands.
Those who stayed at least saw a second PNE goal, Josh Harrop’s pass sending fellow sub Louis Moult into the box.
Moult’s deflected shot was parried by Sam Johnstone to BROWNE who headed in.