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Preston post-match notebook: The enjoyment of watching North End has completely gone

In a game that Alex Neil had even billed himself as ‘very important and a must win’, Preston succumbed to a 1-0 loss to Luton Town.

It was just The Hatters’ ninth away goal of the season, but was enough to take home the three points.

I would love nothing more than to write about a Preston victory, a revival from Neil’s side. A promising display from loan players or a reminder of how it’s done by seasoned regulars. It would be great to see potential in a side that are setting themselves up for a promotion push next season. It would be lovely to see some sort of identity from this side. I would enjoy seeing passion on show from the players and the manager.

Unfortunately, here I am writing about the 20th defeat of the season, and I am dreading the remaining eight games too.

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Will he survive this?

In my last post-match notebook piece, I suggested a poor result against Luton would give Peter Ridsdale and Trevor Hemmings a decision to make over the international break. That’s now where we stand. Alex Neil looked despondent after Luton scored, and he knew deep down we weren’t going to get an equaliser. He was clearly thinking about his immediate future. No one likes to see a manager lose their job, and in this industry clubs do chop and change far too often on the whole.

Having nearly been at Deepdale four years, he’s lasted longer than most managers do in the Championship. There’s plenty of questions to be asked at this point. Will a change of manager help matters? Is Alex Neil to blame? Does he really want to stay here? There’s no definitive answer to any of those. However, things have clearly become stale. There really are no signs of an improvement forthcoming. There’s not much to build on for any new manager either, with the future of a lot of the squad up in the air. Perhaps that does provide a platform for someone to come in with fresh ideas.

Neil isn’t solely to blame

The eleven players out on the pitch haven’t covered themselves in glory this season. Some are not good enough for this level, and those players were most probably not top of Alex Neil’s shopping list. The recruitment in the last few years has been poor. The contract situation with our top players which led to three of them departing in January was handled extremely poorly. The current pandemic we are in does not help matters as well, and in a recent piece for Lancs Live, Adam Salisbury touched on the point that without fans at Deepdale, the club does suffer massively. The Town End would suck goals into the net at times, and there’s no doubt that plenty of our current players would thrive on the atmosphere and respond to the crowd in a positive way.

An encouraging run, a last ditch tackle, and thunderous shot are now not met with applause or cheers but deathly silence in stadiums. Preston are a team who have traditionally relied on being the underdog but thriving on the unity the fans bring to the game. Without this the team suffers greatly.

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Fans need to be back on board for when stadiums are open again

Hopefully being back in Deepdale isn’t too far off on the horizon. Right now, many Preston fans are probably not too bothered about missing out on the action in person. This is a great shame in itself. It’s currently a chore for those of us who pay £10 once or twice a week to watch the dire performances Preston serve us each time.

Football is about much more than that of course. It’s the whole build up to it. The journey to an away game, or catching up with friends and family before a home match. The feeling as they walk out the tunnel. The half-time and full-time rituals. Right now all enjoyment has been sucked out of the game. There’s no fun, in just logging into your device to watch another drab game.

Preston North End, like every other club have suffered financially in this past year. When the doors to Deepdale open up again, they will need as many fans as possible back in there spending their money with the club. The way things are going at the moment, it will take a lot to convince many to part ways with their good money for a season ticket.

Ledson returns but to little avail

The midfield was reshuffled once again, with Ryan Ledson returning, and Ben Whiteman and Daniel Johnson alongside him. Our biggest threats were out wide with Scott Sinclair and Anthony Gordon but they weren’t given the ball enough. The creativity in the team is very low at the moment, matched by their confidence. Ledson came out after the game and said “We have won one in nine and for a club of this stature that’s not good enough. We aren’t stupid, we are hurting in there and we know it’s nowhere near good enough.”

He also went on to say that the players are still playing for the manager. Of course he would never say anything else in that situation. The personnel in the squad are much better than the current form suggests. You can’t say they are not playing for Neil either. But the tactics seem non-existent, and everyone is so deflated including the recent January arrivals.

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A big two weeks ahead

A very important international break for Preston is now upon us. These next two weeks are crucial, either with or without Alex Neil. If the decision has been made to part company with him, then get it done with and spend the next two weeks making the next steps. If the club is sticking with him for the rest of the season, then they need to be working very hard on the training ground. Working out how to stop this abysmal run, which could see the club slide into the relegation zone.

The next four games are all against promotion hopefuls, and you would be a very optimistic person if you think Preston would manage a victory from any of them. Only nine points ahead of Rotherham United in 22nd, who have four games in hand on us. The season is far from over.

Whether Alex Neil is to blame or not for the current predicament, it’s clear that it is time for a change for the good of the club. That’s not to say Neil’s tenure has been a failure; far from it, but right now his position is the easiest to swiftly change, and for someone to come in with a new approach.

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