Michael Appleton is ideal replacement for Alex Neil, but there's one big problem

Preston are searching for a new manager having parted ways with Alex Neil on Sunday afternoon.

North End lost 1-0 at home to Luton Town on Saturday, making it three defeats in a week without even scoring a goal.

Neil has now paid the price with his job, and it seems likely that Preston will wait until the summer to appoint his long-term successor.

Fans have already been suggesting a host of potential replacements, but our pick of a domestic appointment is Lincoln City’s Michael Appleton.

Photo by Chris Vaughan – CameraSport via Getty Images

Now, there is one big issue here. Appleton recently signed a new long-term contract with Lincoln, so he won’t be easy to lure away from Sincil Bank.

Still, there are a number of reasons why we love Appleton for the Preston job, and believe he is worth pursuing for Trevor Hemmings and co…

Emotional connection to Preston

‘He knows the club’ is arguably the most overused phrase when it comes to managers going back to former clubs. It doesn’t really mean all that much and is no guarantee of success, but it’s hard to deny Appleton’s ties.

Appleton turned out for Preston in his playing days, racking up more than 120 league appearances in a successful stint at Deepdale.

17 Nov 2000: Michael Appleton of Preston North End clears the ball from danger during the Nationwide League Division One match against Watford played at Vicarage Road, in Watford, England. Preston North End won the match 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike Finn-Kelcey /Allsport

Last year, Appleton confirmed that his son is a huge Preston fan, following North End around the country before the global pandemic hit.

Preston fans need to feel a connection again having grown distant during the pandemic, and appointing a former player in Appleton could be ideal – especially when his own son loves the club so much.

Head coach material

We understand that Preston will be looking for a head coach rather than a manager moving forward, signalling something of a change in the overall setup at Deepdale.

Appleton fits the bill for that role, even if his title at Lincoln is currently ‘first team manager’. He has been an outstanding coach over the years, working in prominent coaching roles at West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City where he focused his attention on the training pitch.

Appleton also worked as a head coach at Oxford United, and you only have to look at some of the names he developed there to see that he fits what North End are now seeking.

Photo by Chris Vaughan – CameraSport via Getty Images

Kemar Roofe, George Baldock, John Lundstram, Jonjoe Kenny, Joe Rothwell, Marvin Johnson, Curtis Nelson, Tyler Roberts and Callum O’Dowda were all brought along by Appleton, as was current Preston midfielder Ryan Ledson.

Appleton made Oxford plenty of money by developing young players often let go by ‘bigger’ clubs; an approach Preston need to get back to in the near future.

League One success

Yes, Appleton has struggled in the Championship in the past with at Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers, but he has impressed enough in League One to suggest he deserves another shot now.

Appleton guided Oxford to an eighth-placed finish in League One during the 2016-17 season having only just won promotion from League Two, and is now excelling at Lincoln.

The Imps sit fourth in the League One table right now, just four points off an automatic promotion spot with a play-off finish almost guaranteed at this point.

Few really backed Lincoln for his kind of success, but Appleton has them punching above their weight whilst playing a much more progressive style of play than predecessor Danny Cowley.

It won’t be cheap to lure Appleton away from Lincoln, but when you consider what North End are now seeking, he is one of the outstanding candidates and must be considered as a top target this summer.

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