Preston went into the international break off the back of a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest, producing a decent display at the City Ground.
North End took the lead through Billy Bodin, dominating the play in the first half. Forest roared back after the break, and grabbed an equaliser through Albert Adomah.
There were plenty of positives for Alex Neil to take, and the main one may well be Bodin’s display as a makeshift striker.
Much has been made of North End’s current striking issues. Louis Moult is out for the season, David Nugent is still unavailable, Seani Maguire has been playing on the left and has an eye injury, whilst Jayden Stockley appears to be out of favour.
That has all resulted in Neil making surprise changes. Tom Barkhuizen played as a striker against Stoke City to great effect, using his pace to get in behind. In six Championship games, five different players have started as North End’s centre forward. Add in that Andre Green was used there when Moult was injured at Swansea, and it’s clear this position is arguably Neil’s biggest problem, failing to find a consistent solution.
Sadly, Barkhuizen now injured too, so Neil went with Bodin up top at Forest. Primarily a right winger, Bodin fared well in his more advanced role, even outside of finding the back of the net.
Now the question will be whether Bodin can continue this unexpected role. With so many injuries in the attack, he certainly hasn’t done himself any harm. Nugent, Maguire, and Barkhuizen will hopefully come back shortly after the international break, but Bodin could now be the favourite to start against Brentford.
Over the summer, Bodin noted to the LEP that he has a history of playing as a striker. That’s way back in his days at Swindon Town, but at least he isn’t complete stranger to the role.
He isn’t the exact type of striker that Neil would want though. He’s not a Jordan Hugill type; he’s not going to physically dominate defenders. However, parts of his game do make sense, given that nobody in the squad right now does fit that bill.
Bodin showcased fine movement peeling off defenders against Forest. He was able to cleverly get behind in the Forest backline on a couple of occasions, most notably for in the lead-up to his goal, but also when Josh Harrop picked him out to test Brice Samba.
Having that ability can open up space for the likes of Harrop and Daniel Johnson, but so can his ability to drop deep. Bodin’s best attribute is his dribbling, and being able to pick the ball up and drive at defenders can provide fluidity with Harrop, Johnson, and others. Neil has previously used Callum Robinson as sort of a ‘false 9’ in the Preston attack, with some decent results – and Bodin could be a similar type.
Physically, Bodin is a touch more well-built than Maguire, and more mobile than Stockley. Those two players have proven an issue in terms of style of play at the top of the pitch, but Bodin’s more rounded skillset makes him a threat in behind and with the ball at his feet, even if aerial challenges with defenders may still be an issue.
Bodin is also very good at initiating the press, which is a key part of Neil’s style. Even just from his goal at Forest, he hassles defenders into a mistake, wins the second ball, lays it off and keeps moving. He makes a run that the defenders don’t track, then twice shows outstanding composure to beat a defender before getting a shot in at goal.
There were plenty of encouraging signs from Bodin, and whilst his new role is still very much in the experimental phase after just one game, the £400,000 signing from Bristol Rovers (LEP) could be the solution to North End’s long-running problems in attack with more playing time there – hopefully starting with Brentford.