Dave Seddon's verdict on Preston North End 1-1 Swansea: It's never straightforward for Alex Neil but healthier squad points to upturn in fortunes
After the famine came the feast, Preston boss Alex Neil having the luxury of selection choices for a Championship game for the first time since before Christmas.
The team-sheet release was perhaps the most eagerly awaited of the season for PNE supporters due to the influx of new signings, so too the return from injury and suspension of several key players.
Neil made six changes to face Swansea at Deepdale, gave debuts to two of his new boys and had another sat on the bench.
He was even able to leave a fourth buy, Josh Ginnelly, out of the squad altogether such were the options available.
After filling the bench with kids over Christmas, there were senior bodies wearing the green subs bibs for Neil to choose from on Saturday.
Things were still not quite so straightforward for him in terms of utilising the squad to its full potential.
Two of his substitutions were in defence, an area he would rather have left alone.
One was enforced as Tom Clarke suffered a calf injury, the other part tactical and part casualty – at half-time Paul Huntington came off with a tight groin but mainly due to Neil’s desire to find a better balance to his back four.
Josh Earl who took over from Huntington lasted only to the 81st minute, a red card ending his day prematurely.
So there were still some bumps in the road on the way to a hard-fought draw with the eye-catching Swans.
A forgettable first half gave way to a better second, the contest’s two goals squashed into a five-minute spell.
The visitors went ahead in the 55th minute, North End level by the hour mark when Daniel Johnson scored from the penalty spot.
Earl’s sending-off for two yellow cards briefly raised the temperature, a drama which Neil’s men survived.
Neither side did enough to win, that something which Neil and counterpart Graham Potter agreed on.
Preston eyes were fixed on Jayden Stockley and Brad Potts, a pair who reportedly cost a combined £2.25m.
Stockley led the PNE attack, Potts played on the right side of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system.
I thought both did fine, Stockley in particular at the top end of the pitch.
North End have lacked a target man since cashing-in on Jordan Hugill a year ago but in Stockley they had a striker who held the ball well, won aerial challenges and was to fire in the cross which led to their penalty.
He will be used better by his team-mates as time goes on, Alan Browne later to admit that they were looking for him a little bit too much to start with.
Potts was a presence in midfield and got himself on the ball as often as he could.
Standing at more than 6ft, he covers the ground well and should prove to be a good asset.
Watching Stockley and Potts from the bench was new keeper Connor Ripley.
Having only had Friday to train with his new colleagues, Ripley was not deemed ready by Neil to be put straight into the team.
Declan Rudd got the nod to start and did enough to make Neil’s decision for next week’s trip to Queens Park Rangers a tricky one.
A bit of a flap at one second-half cross aside, Rudd did fine.
But Ripley’s arrival from Middlesbrough has turned up the heat on him.
Among all this talk of the new boys, was another strong performance from a player who has been here since last summer.
Jordan Storey made the same trip as Stockley from Exeter to Lancashire in June.
Storey was Preston’s best performer on Saturday and is steadily making one of the central defence berths his own.
He reads the game well for someone still inexperienced in terms of games – this time last year he had yet to make his first start in League Two.
For the first 45 minutes Storey had Huntington as his partner in the middle, for the second his company came in the shape of Andrew Hughes.
The Welsh left-back was shifted inside as Neil went for a left-foot/right-foot pairing at the heart of the defence.
Huntington had a minor injury to contend with but it appears to have largely been a tactical switch.
Every credit to Hughes, he fitted in well in the middle and on the day looked better there than he had done at left-back.
Saturday’s weather was not conducive to an entertaining afternoon – a swirling wind and steady rain made for filthy conditions.
The atmosphere was flat with the crowd not able to raise themselves for this one.
It was a largely forgettable first half, save for a couple of chances at either end.
Potts saw a shot from 30 yards spin up off the keeper’s legs, that coming soon after Clarke’s header across goal had been saved.
At the other end, Rudd did well to dive and push away a shot from Bersant Celina which had deflected of the foot of Huntington.
PNE pressed high to try and stop Swansea playing out from the back, Stockley and Browne pushing up to force keeper Erwin Mulder to go long at goal kicks.
When the visitors did get the chance to move the ball, they tended to do it well.
That proved so when they took the lead to cap-off the strong start they had made to the second half.
Wayne Routledge blocked a clearance from Clarke and set off on a run out of midfield.
His pass released Celina down the side of the six-yard box who crossed for Courtney Baker-Richardson to steer in.
PNE didn’t have to chase the game for long, with them level within five minutes.
Stockley chased a pass from Tom Barkhuizen down the right and wrapped his foot around the ball to pull it back into the box.
It struck Connor Roberts on the arm which was away from his body, the assistant on that side signalling that it was handball.
Johnson sent Mulder the wrong way from the spot with a left-foot finish.
Earl’s dismissal was harsh, a sliding tackle on Mike Van Der Hoorn which won the ball earning him the second yellow after a challenge on Nathan Dyer got him the first.