Preston’s 1-0 defeat at Millwall on Saturday once again showed a lack of attacking quality.
North End failed to muster even one shot on target in a toothless display, and it’s currently hard to see where the goals are coming from in attack.
Seani Maguire isn’t an ideal lone striker, especially when long balls are fired at him. Jayden Stockley didn’t manage to change the game, and their roles leave North End in a quandary.
Maguire is mobile, but not big or physical enough to be Neil’s ideal striker. Stockley is big and physical but not mobile enough, whilst Louis Moult and David Nugent won’t be seen as strikers to lead the line.
Jordan Hugill was the ideal striker for Neil, having the brute strength to play on his own but also mobility to run the channels, press hard and even get in behind. Sadly, Hugill has never really been replaced, despite him being a record sale for Preston.
With just around 72 hours of the transfer window left, Preston are in trouble. Finding a striker to tick Neil’s boxes doesn’t come cheap, and we’ve seen that in the market this summer.
Sam Gallagher ticks the boxes, but Blackburn paid £5million to sign him (Daily Echo). Barnsley’s Kieffer Moore – Neil’s preferred target to replace Hugill last summer – is now set for a £3million move to Wigan, according to the Daily Mail.
Those fees are way beyond Preston, and anybody that could improve the North End attack in the English game will come at a similar price. That’s just not going to happen, which makes you question why Preston limit themselves in the transfer market.
Time to look abroad?
Preston are one of the few Championship clubs to seemingly avoid foreign markets. The last time North End negotiated a deal with a non-British or Irish club for a signing was Keammar Daley from Tivoli Gardens…all the way back in 2011.
It’s one thing to keep a British core – that’s perfectly fine. However, Preston know they can’t compete in the English market, even with North West rivals Blackburn and Wigan. They’re both spending way beyond what Preston can, so looking only to the English market is so difficult.
When Joe Savage – remember him? – arrived as head of recruitment in 2017, Neil told the LEP that he had an ‘extensive knowledge of players, not only across Britain but in Europe as well’. That raised hopes that North End would be more active in foreign markets, but nothing has materialised.
There’s a school of thought that bringing in foreign players would damage dressing room harmony. It’s a little narrow-minded to just assume anybody not from Britain or Ireland would be such a disruptive force. German Patrick Bauer has been added to that dressing room now, and whilst he has some English football under his belt, why not look to use him as a bridge to foreign incomings?
Brentford are doing this perfectly. They’ve found incredible value in France, Spain, Belgium, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, whilst they’re now even attacking the Polish market.
Neal Maupay, Said Benrahma, Yoann Barbet, Jota, Maxime Colin, Henrik Dalsgaard, Mathias Jensen, Lasse Vibe, Florian Jozefzoon and Kamohelo Mokotjo are just a host of examples. They’ve been able to sell on many and reinvest for more, with Troyes’ star winger Bryan Mbeumo now joining in a big-money move.
The Bees are expanded their horizons, and are reaping the rewards. Huddersfield Town and Norwich City have benefited from exploring the German market, winning promotion. It doesn’t have to be a huge influx like them, or Wolves with Portuguese players, but if Preston feel they can’t compete in an inflated British market, then it’s time to look further afield. Otherwise, we end up with third, fourth-choice targets who – to put it bluntly – leave the club stagnating.
Connor Ripley, Joe Rafferty and Stockley himself already look like being average signings at best from January. Before that, Graham Burke and Moult have disappointed, and whilst Preston have done a great job of finding bargains over the years, it’s becoming more and more difficult.
There are players out in Europe and beyond that can make a real impact. Neil and Savage showed no qualms with signing foreigners at Norwich, landing players from Croatia, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands. That makes it seems like a club decision to focus only on British and Irish players, which is intentionally limiting North End to a smaller pool of signings – and it’s an increasingly expensive pool right now, which Preston can’t compete in.
It’s time to take a risk, take a leaf out of Brentford’s book and expand those horizons.