We may only be in October, but some fans may already be looking to the January transfer window.
Preston are in a strong position as the international break comes to an end, sitting third in the Championship table. Nothing is won or lost at this stage, and Alex Neil will know there’s a long, long road ahead.
If North End remain in or around the top six, there will be calls for Preston to strengthen for a big push – but they will also need to make decisions on players already at Deepdale.
For instance, defender Tom Clarke is out of contract next summer, and the coming months will determine his future.
The defender was Simon Grayson’s first Preston signing back in 2013, having worked together at Huddersfield. It didn’t take long for Clarke to become a Preston favourite, scoring a dramatic winner to beat Blackpool just months after signing.
Clarke probably hasn’t had to pay for a drink in Preston since, having made himself a hero with that goal. For more than six years, Clarke has been a regular in the Preston side, and played a key role in the 2015 promotion campaign.
Now with almost 250 appearances for the club, Clarke has enjoyed the best years of his career at Deepdale. He’s club captain under Alex Neil, and has proven to be great value on a free transfer. Yet is his time with the club coming to an end?
Clarke turns 32 in December, and the injuries are starting to become frustrating for the veteran. He was limited to just 20 appearances in the 2017-18 campaign, and 22 last term. He’s currently out injured with a knee problem, and hasn’t played for almost two months.
Clarke is working his way back to fitness now, but North End face a difficult decision over his future. You’d now have to suggest that Clarke is behind Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer and Jordan Storey at centre back, as well as Darnell Fisher, Joe Rafferty and maybe even Alan Browne at right back.
His role may be diminished over the course of the season, despite the fact he’s been a great servant and captain. Approaching 32, with a number of injury woes over the last two years, it may be time for North End to move on from Clarke.
Of course, if he’s happy with a squad role and helping youngsters like Storey, then maybe he could be kept on. North End won’t want to waste funds though, and Clarke may need to prove he can avoid more injury lay-offs if he’s to earn a new Deepdale contract.
Neil does still seem to value Clarke, an decision time is fast approaching. He’ll be able to talk to non-English clubs in January, and there’s a very real chance that the defender’s memorable time with the club is heading towards its end.