Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat Brentford felt a little flat in the end – much like the final stages of Preston’s season, in truth.
Ollie Watkins’ early goal was enough to give the Bees a crucial three points, with Preston unable to haul themselves back into the game.
That likely rules Preston out of the playoff race once and for all, and fans were understandably pretty deflated as the season is seemingly over with two games to play.
However, there were some bright spots in the game, and the performance of defender Jordan Storey was one such positive that will give fans some hope.
Before the trip to Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month, Storey hadn’t made a single league start since December. He was stuck behind Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer and even Paul Huntington in the North End pecking order.
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Yet with Alex Neil switching to a 3-5-2 in that game, Storey was handed a shock recall, forming a three-man back line with Bauer and Davies.
Storey showed his quality in that game with not one but two goal-saving challenges, and it was somewhat harsh for him to dropped from the side just days later as Neil abandoned the 3-5-2 against Nottingham Forest.
A first-half injury to Davies meant Storey had another chance. He was solid as a rock when he came on, limiting Lewis Grabban to scraps as he had the recovery speed to cope with Grabban’s off-the-ball movement.
Davies was out of the trip to Brentford, and Storey took his spot. He was maybe caught on his heels for Watkins’ winner, but he helped limit the highest scorers in the Championship to just one shot. Storey recorded two aerials, two clearances and one tackle in that game.
Davies is unlikely to return this season unless Preston somehow sneak into the playoffs, so Storey should get another two starts before the campaign ends – and he could leave Neil with a dilemma.
Davies is likely to attract major Premier League interest this summer, and with just one year left on his contract at Deepdale, a move away does sadly seem probable.
Storey’s performances suggest that he could step in and replace Davies next season and beyond, as he possesses some of the key attributes Davies provides; the willingness to play out from the back and great pace for a centre back. He doesn’t quite have the distribution of Davies, but few centre backs in the Championship do, and at 22 he can develop that side of his game.
However, the dilemma comes with Davies being left-footed. Neil has loved using Davies on the left side of his defence in order to bring balance to the backline, and Storey is predominantly right-footed.
It doesn’t sound like a big issue, but it could impact North End’s build-up play. Left-footed centre backs are like gold dust in the modern game, and finding one to replace Davies won’t be easy.
Storey is making a real case to show that, foot preference aside, he can replace Davies. It will then be up to Neil to decide whether the £750,000 signing from Exeter City is worth sticking with as Davies’s replacement, or whether a left-footed option will be required as a signing this summer.