Test for Callum

Preston's taking of four points on their travels of late is hopefully a sign that they have kicked-started their season after the injury induced wobble of October and November.

Saturday, 2nd December 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th December 2017, 12:48 pm
Preston North End's Callum Robinson

Victory over Bristol City and last week’s draw with Norwich was welcome and very much needed.

Having done that on their travels, the next test is to do it on home soil against Queens Park Rangers.

On an individual basis, the same kind of challenge awaits Callum Robinson, pictured.

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He delivered the goods in the Bristol City and Norwich games, now for him to do similar at Deepdale.

At Ashton Gate, Robinson came off the bench to score North End’s second goal in the 2-1 win.

There was no goal for him in the Norwich trip, however he responded to only his fifth league start of the campaign by turning in a performance labelled by Alex Neil as his best ‘by a mile’ this term.

Three of PNE’s best chances came as a result of good play by Robinson in the final third.

His cross was headed by Jordan Hugill into the path of Alan Browne who executed an overhead kick which came back off the bar.

Another Robinson centre picked out Calum Woods, the defender placing a header straight at the keeper when he should have scored.

Robinson’s through ball six minutes into added-on time gave Tom Barkhuizen a run on goal.

This was more of the side of Robinson we wanted to see, him getting on the ball and making things happen.

The transition between Simon Grayson and Neil has seemingly been a difficult one for Robinson.

Neil has said more than once that it has taken time for the 22-year-old to grasp what is required under his management.

The shortage of league starts is evidence of Neil’s thoughts but perhaps the last two games represent a corner turned for Robinson.

A change of position might perhaps explain why he has not had much of a look in.

Many of his appearances last season came up front as former boss Grayson in the main played a 4-4-2 system.

Robinson struck-up a partnership with Hugill through the middle.

The 4-2-3-1 preferred by Neil allows for one spearhead striker, supported by the three behind – two wide men and a No.10.

So it’s been wide duties for Robinson, a role he has taken time to settle back into.

There has been plenty of competition out on the flanks too, Barkhuizen and, until his injury, Sean Maguire, nailing down the wider roles. With Maguire out for a while, there is a vacancy up for grabs.

I would suggest Robinson is a confidence player if his scoring pattern with North End is anything to go by.

He has tended to find the net in bursts, his first five goals in PNE colours in the 2014/15 season coming in a five-game period.

When Robinson came back in the second half of 2015/16, his two goals came in successive games.

Around this time last year, there was a spell of three goals in five matches.

Robinson got two in two against Arsenal and Brighton in January, then followed similar the following month in the wins over Brentford and Birmingham.

Hopefully his displays of the last two games have marked the start of a run of form.

North End’s return home this weekend is significant in that they are chasing a long overdue win at Deepdale.

Not since September 12 when they took Cardiff City apart, have they won in front of the faithful.

Two draws with Millwall and Sunderland followed that victory, then they lost to Brentford and Aston Villa in the space of five days.

Last time out there was the bore draw with Bolton, that result at least giving them a platform to build on at Bristol City and Norwich.

Talking of Norwich, it was fun and games at Carrow Road last week with all the fuss surrounding the injured assistant referee and the stand-in fourth official.

It was something to write about, a bit of fun even, with a fan plucked from the crowd to hold up the numbers board in his jeans.

But was a 10-minute delay really necessary, one which killed the game as a spectacle as all momentum was lost.

The hobbling linesman was in some discomfort but was it had enough to have stopped him standing between the two technical areas and doing the fourth official duties?

Maybe the way forward is for a fifth official – a local ref on a small retainer – to be on standby at every ground for such an eventuality.

Lower down the football pyramid, games continue even if a linesman is lost.

So the loss of the fourth official at Norwich should not really have turned into the drama it did.

Meanwhile, experience seems to be all the rage in the Premier League this week as Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew took up new jobs at Everton and West Bromwich respectively.

While not so long ago it was all about young coaches clutching iPads, clubs are turning to older heads as they look for a way out of trouble.

Allardyce and Pardew follow David Moyes and Roy Hodgson into office.

Allardyce seems to be the ultimate go-to when it comes to fighting off the threat of relegation from the Premier League.

I’ve got a soft spot for Big Sam from his time as a player at PNE, being part of that wonderful collection of misfits John McGrath put together to win promotion 30 years ago.

Talking of managers, was it just me who thought Pep Guardiola’s behaviour a touch strange after the final whistle of Manchester City’s win over Southampton?

His ranting and raving in the face of Southampton’s Nathan Redmond has since been explained as Pep’s way of praising him – I’d like to see him being critical if that is the case!

But why do it in such a manner, surely a quiet chat afterwards would be far more civilised.