Preston North End’s second-half performance against Fulham was closer to what fans have wanted to see. Unfortunately, not many fans saw it inside Deepdale.
Ched Evans again came off the bench to haul Preston level having fallen behind from a set piece.
North End went toe-to-toe with the league leaders and could have won it on another day.
The performance was an improvement, but many have been left concerned by the attendance at Deepdale.
Just 9,838 fans attended Saturday’s game. That’s already the second time North End’s attendance has slipped below 10,000 for a home league game this season.
Saturday’s attendance was the worst so far this term and you can point to some mitigating factors.
The game was an early Saturday kick off in freezing temperatures. Given that Sky Sports were showing the game, many may have simply decided to stay inside and watch it.
Others may be forced to save money in the approach to Christmas. Additionally, Fulham didn’t bring too many fans in the away end.
You can make various arguments to justify the attendance, but the alarm bells should be ringing.
There has been real discontent in the Preston fanbase for months now. It isn’t just one issue either.
From transfer policy to the divisive move for Ched Evans, from style of play to derby day embarrassment, from matchday experience to quality of merchandise, the feeling among many is that they’re not getting bank for their buck at Preston.
Any of those reasons have been cited for fans losing interest or taking their money elsewhere.
During lockdowns, it was felt that many would love being back inside stadiums, cheering on their teams again.
But the lockdown also brought a disconnect. Fans had to find other things to do on Saturdays when football was abandoned and even when football returned in empty stadiums, that connection had been lost for many.
Recapturing that is difficult, especially when results and performances have been so disappointing.
You look at Preston’s big games this season. When tickets were cheap against Derby County, fans turned in their thousands. They were treated to a 0-0 draw in which Preston were second best against the beleaguered Rams.
When fans travelled for the hotly-anticipated derby with Blackpool, North End were meek and comfortably beaten.
Those performances last in the memory for Preston supporters, and any lapsed fan who cam to the Derby game won’t have been rushing back.
In Alex Neil’s time at the club, Preston’s attendance never dipped below 10,000 in a league game. This season, it’s already happened twice, as per Football Web Pages.
Blame it on the weather, blame it on effects of the pandemic, blame it on Sky coverage, blame it on low away support, whatever it may be.
The lingering feeling though is that Preston fans are voting with their feet.
Performances and style of play have been somewhat drab this season, and if North End supporters are deciding to put their money elsewhere, then those in charge at the club will have to consider major changes.
It hasn’t all been bad; the attempts to provide fans with a pre-match hub have been positive, the cheap tickets against Derby was a great touch and fans love to watch the likes of Ali McCann and Emil Riis.
For fans to come back though, they need something to believe in. That just isn’t happening at the moment.
Preston simply aren’t a club who can afford to lose fans. Something has to give sooner or later, and these winter months could be difficult if Saturday’s game is anything to go by.