Preston’s unbeaten Championship run continued on Tuesday night, drawing 1-1 at Middlesbrough.
North End took the lead at the Riverside Stadium, with Josh Harrop scoring from close range after Alan Browne’s effort hit the post. The lead didn’t last long, as Darnell Fisher’s own goal brought Boro level almost immdiately.
Alex Neil had to settle for a point, but remain in the top six after 10 games. With the unbeaten run now at seven games, North End are going well – but there may still be scope for change.
With Paul Gallagher rested, Daniel Johnson was moved back to a central midfield role. Browne replaced him as the number 10, and it certainly took away from Johnson’s influence.
Johnson has found his true position now, and keeping him there should be the priority. Neil’s decision was understandable, looking for control in the middle of the park without Gallagher available. Sadly, it didn’t quite work – and Johnson should be kept as the number 10 moving forward.
That means re-tooling the central midfield area, and that should result in more playing time for Tom Bayliss.
The 20-year-old was signed from Coventry City in August, with Preston paying a club-record fee to sign him. However, he hasn’t yet made a first Championship start for North End.
Neil has been taking it slowly with Bayliss, only using him in the Carabao Cup. With just one appearance in September – a 14-minute cameo against Manchester City – Bayliss has’t quite made the impact some would have expected.
It seems that North End snapped up Bayliss to be Gallagher’s heir, with the Scot now 35. That may well mean Bayliss sits and learns from Gallagher this season, but Preston may yet need him to step up a little sooner.
North End miss Gallagher’s progressive passing when he’s out of the side. Johnson can’t impact the game from there, neither can Browne, and Ryan Ledson should be used if Ben Pearson out, rather than alongside him.
The natural choice would be to bring in Bayliss. He doesn’t have much match fitness right now, but introducing him as a substitute for Gallagher before starting him when the veteran is rested would be a smart idea.
Bayliss surely won’t spend the entire season on the sidelines, and last night’s display – which saw Johnson struggle a little more than usual this season – should be an indication that he isn’t being used properly when replacing Gallagher.
That’s what Bayliss is there for, and whilst he is still young an inexperienced, he has the qualities North End lack without Gallagher on the pitch. It remains to be seen whether Neil starts to ease him into Championship action now, but the opportunity should be there.