Sean Gregan's exclusive column: Academy lads making their first-team debut for Preston is a big boost for the club

Lukas Nmecha in the thick of the actionLukas Nmecha in the thick of the action
Lukas Nmecha in the thick of the action
Although Preston didn't win against Aston Villa, I thought a draw against a side who should finish in the top six was a decent result.

The squad was down to the bare bones with two of the substitutes who came on being teenagers.

Villa had players of the ilk of Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolaise who will be on fortunes.

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So for North End to have pushed them all the way, to have battled their way back after conceding on the stroke of half-time, was testament to them.

They hit the woodwork twice, forced the keeper into a couple of saves, and will probably count themselves a touch unfortunate not to have got all three points.

It was nice to hear of the two academy lads coming on, Ethan Walker I’m told being the youngest player to play for Preston in a league game.

When you get youngsters coming out of the academy to play in the first-team, it gives everyone a lift.

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Hopefully Walker and Adam O’Reilly who came on, so too Jack Baxter who was also on the bench, can go on to play more games as time goes on.

The draw with Villa came on the back of two defeats so it was important to stop that little run developing into more serious.

Now the aim has to be to go to Rotherham on New Year’s Day and win there.

There is a seven-point gap between North End and the Millers at the moment, so if that could extended it gives them more breathing space.

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Those two defeats had seen them looking over their shoulder a bit, so to open-up more of a gap would be good.

If Preston could get a win in Yorkshire, four points from the Christmas games wouldn’t be too bad.

What Alex Neil will be wanting is for the injury list to shorten in 2019, for him to have the majority of his first-team players available.

You rarely have everyone fully fit at any stage of the season but Neil’s options have been severely restricted over the last few weeks.

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Hopefully he can do a bit of business in January too to get the numbers up and add competition to the squad.

The earlier in the transfer window they can get their business done, the better.

Players take time to settle at a new club, however good they are and whatever level they are playing at.

The sooner they arrive, the sooner they can get to know their team-mates and what is expected of them.

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When North End look back on 2018, I think they will see it as a decent enough year.

They did well last season to finish seventh, although that saw them just miss out on the play-offs.

Obviously there was the wobble at the start of this season with them having to play catch-up.

The run they had until the two defeats recently, showed what they are capable of.

If they can get some of the injured lads back and bring in some new signings, there is no reason why they can’t be strong again as we go into 2019.

Happy New Year and have a great 2019.