Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: A back four could be way forward
Preston's form and the Championship table makes for grim reading at the moment.
Even if they were to win their next game they could still be in the bottom three on goal difference so it could take a run of two or three victories to really get going.
At the moment, PNE can’t buy a win and the fear is they could get cut adrift.
The ‘goals against’ column is obviously the big concern – conceding three goals a game is now par of the course. That is the opposite to what happened last season when they were tight defensively and picked up results on the back of clean sheets.
Confidence has not surprisingly taken a dip – you don’t concede three goals in four league games running without it affecting you.
What they could do with is a dull-as-ditchwater 0-0 to show that they can keep a clean sheet – maybe a scrappy goal or a dodgy penalty at the other end to turn it into a 1-0 win.
Alex Neil has been chopping and changing line-ups and formations of late in a bid to find a winning formula, as most managers in his position tend to do. But in my view North End need a settled side and a formation, one they can work on, be drilled in and have confidence in going into games.
For defenders, sometimes a flat back four with two centre-halves is one they are more comfortable in than a back three. I found that sometimes it was a bit of a case of ‘after you Claude’ when you had three centre-halves, not quite knowing who should be going to clear.
With two centre-halves it is straightforward with one attacking the ball and the other covering round.
For some of the squad, being at the wrong end of the table will be a new experience for them. Last season they rarely slipped below halfway and a lot of the campaign was spent being in touch with the play-off push.
Confidence was gathered from that, if there was a setback it was put right within a game or two. It’s a different challenge this season and one they need to get used to.
Older heads such as Paul Gallagher will have seen this before and can try and pass on his experience but for some of the younger lads, this is very new to them.
PNE’s latest defeat came against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, two of my old clubs going head to head at Deepdale. The 3-2 win sent Albion to the top of the Championship and they look in decent shape as they aim to make a swift return to the Premier League.
They have got the finance to have a strong squad in place by reason of the parachute payments they receive – a topic I have talked about many times and what an imbalance it creates in the Championship.
While North End have to shop at the other end of the market, looking for strikers in Ireland, Albion have been able to bring in Dwight Gayle on loan from Newcastle to play up front.
They beat off bids for Jay Rodriguez and Craig Dawson and at the moment are getting the rewards for that. Their squad contains some seasoned Premier League players and that will serve them well.
It is straight back to action for Preston on Tuesday night when they face Aston Villa at Villa Park.
Villa aren’t having the best of seasons by any stretch but this one will still be a very tough assignment for PNE.
Steve Bruce seems under a lot of pressure there. However it was the same last year and he ended up getting Villa to the play-off final.
It is a different kind of pressure and expectation at Villa, that comes when you pay huge money for players and give them big contracts.