Mikey O’Neill has shone all season with the Preston youth team. It didn’t take long for Ryan Lowe to be impressed by him and give him a chance with the first-team squad.
The 17-year-old has trained and travelled with the squad on numerous occasions in the latter part of the season, but on Saturday Preston fans were able to get a good glimpse of what the attacking player can provide in the longer term.
After a very brief appearance against Queens Park Rangers marked O’Neill’s professional debut a few weeks ago, against Barnsley Lowe gave him the last ten minutes of the game to showcase his talent.
This was a great opportunity for Mikey, as with The Lilywhites already 3-1 up there was no pressure on him, and he could go out there and enjoy himself.
O’Neill looked sharp, agile and very skilful in that short time, very nearly grabbing himself a goal and an assist. He found himself in some space to open up and get a shot on goal, but unfortunately dragged his shot wide.
You can imagine O’Neill would have been already been seeing his name in the headlights at that point, so you can forgive him.
In the dying embers of the game, O’Neill found himself partnered with Sean Maguire as the forward pair. After receiving a flick on from Maguire, O’Neill controlled the ball well before expertly taking two touches to evade three surrounding defenders, and with a quick burst of pace he was away.
Maguire provided support and O’Neill cut it inside to him, leaving the Irishman with a simple finish, but Maguire’s shot was weak and straight at the Barnsley ‘keeper Jack Walton.
O’Neill’s display was refreshing to see and along with Daniel Johnson I picked him out as a one of the positives from the game.
Preston have one game left this season as they take on Middlesbrough on home at Saturday, and you would think Lowe would be keen to give O’Neill further minutes. The manager has been impressed by him and called him ‘different class’ on Saturday.
With the young player capable of playing as a number 10 or in a front two, he will give Lowe some much needed attacking flair for next season.
It could mean that Sean Maguire could be sweating on his Preston North End future.
After five years with the club his future may be lying elsewhere. Goals are far too rare for the former Cork City player, with just one in 26 Championship games this season.
Maguire has never reached the heights of his first season with us, where finishing never seemed to be a problem for him. Ten goals came in a campaign that was hit with some bad injuries as well.
Maguire turned 28 on the 1st of May, and would have some interest elsewhere if clubs knew he was available. Cardiff City attempted to bring him in on loan in January, but Ryan Lowe blocked that move.
In truth a lot of the squad is going to be different next season, and it is hard to predict for some players where there future lies. For others it is not so hard. For the attacking options only Emil Riis and Mikey O’Neill you would say are almost guaranteed to be here next season.
Cameron Archer will return to Aston Villa and if he does go out on loan he could have better offers, and was linked with Norwich City recently. Ched Evans may drop back down to League One, as his injury and fitness issues have been a hinderance, and Scott Sinclair looks set to leave the club following the expiration of his contract this summer. For Maguire, who knows whether he will be in a North End shirt next season?