It’s been a great start to the season for Preston.
Coming out of the third international break of the season, North End sit second in the Championship table. Alex Neil is defying the odds by having Preston in the automatic promotion spots, though we all know how difficult it will be to stay there.
Preston have the best home record in the league, have scored the most goals, and have only lost three times. It’s been a strong campaign for North End, and Neil must now attempt to keep Preston in there as 2019 comes towards its end.
Many players have impressed for North End, whilst others have found it difficult to break into a successful side, with Neil spoilt for choice in some areas of the pitch.
Here are our player ratings for the season far, attempting to balance expectations and playing time with their contribution so far…
Came into the season under scrutiny, and whilst some still have doubts, Rudd has been decent this season. Maybe it’s the influence of Jonathan Gould, but he has been a little more reliable. It still wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Preston go for a new goalkeeper in January, because Rudd’s biggest issues – being stuck to his line and failing to command his area – linger. Still, he’s been more than serviceable this season. 7
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Hasn’t been given a chance in the league, but played all three of North End’s Carabao Cup games. Didn’t necessarily do anything wrong in those games, but doesn’t really look like he can take Rudd’s spot, which isn’t the most secure in the Preston side. A fine backup, but he may be disappointed not to have kicked on. 4
Started last season in shaky form, but has been solid this term. Fisher has remarkably picked up eight yellow cards in 14 games this season, meaning a two-game ban is on the horizon. Those disciplinary issues and his occasional lapses in concentration are frustrating, but Fisher has been a consistent part of a strong Preston back line. 7
What a signing. Bauer has been strong and dominant, with only five players in the Championship winning more aerial duels. He’s been exactly what Preston have needed, and has formed a superb partnership with Ben Davies. His first half showing against Blackburn Rovers feels like the only blot on his copy book, as he has been a mountain at the back throughout the season. 9
You run out of superlatives for Davies. He has been so consistent throughout Neil’s time in charge, and is now quite simply one of the best defenders in the Championship. He has continued to show his composure, reading of the game and ability to play out from the back this season, with a host of Premier League clubs allegedly interested. He will surely be in the top flight next season – let’s just hope it’s with Preston. 9
Losing his spot to new signing Patrick Bauer will have been a blow, but the 22-year-old has still shown flashes of his potential. He was solid in three Carabao Cup games, and will just have to remain patient for his chance. Neil picking Andrew Hughes at centre back against Blackburn was a blow for Storey, even if driven by Hughes replacing Ben Davies as a left-footer, and it would take a setback for Bauer for him to get in the side. It’s hard to be too harsh here, as Storey still shows his quality when he plays, we just don’t see it often enough. 5
Today marks three months since Clarke was last seen, having picked up an injury against Stoke City. He had kept Darnell Fisher out of the side early in the season, starting at right back – a role he isn’t ideally suited to anymore. Approaching 32, Clarke’s knocks and niggles are becoming common, and with his contract up at the end of the season, he could well go. We haven’t seen a lot of him this season, but he wasn’t at his best then anyway. 4
Hasn’t been given a sniff of Championship football, with his one appearance all season coming in the Carabao Cup win over Hull City. Huntington scored in that game, but hasn’t been seen since. He’s no doubt valuable as an experienced head and a long-serving player, but with just one appearance this season, it’s hard to give him too high of a rating. 3
One of the surprises of the season. Signed as a right back to challenge Darnell Fisher, it was hard to see him getting in the side at the start of the season, with Clarke picked at right back. However, Rafferty has nailed down the left back spot, turning in consistently impressive displays, especially defensively, and Andrew Hughes faces a tough task winning his place back. 8
Came into the season as first-choice left back, but picked up a hamstring injury in the second game. The Welshman has only played in three games since that injury, and was woefully miscast as a centre back against Blackburn. Strong defensively and in the air, Hughes still has plenty to offer, but isn’t enjoying as much success as last season – hence Rafferty taking his spot. 5
Continues to impress in the middle of the park, though maybe wasn’t at his best against Leeds United or, like many, in the first half against Blackburn Rovers. His disciplinary issues were improving before picking up a silly yellow card against Charlton Athletic to pick up a one-game ban. So influential to how North End play, and much like Davies, will probably be playing in the Premier League next season whether Preston go up or not. 8
Now 35, you keep waiting for Gallagher’s age to catch up with him, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. Outstanding last time out against Huddersfield Town, Gallagher’s ability to control a game hasn’t deserted him, and he still has the legs to not only play, but excel in the Championship. His experience and creativity is still as important to North End as it was when he came back to the club in 2013. 8
Only ever seen in cup games or when Pearson is out, Ledson is essentially Preston’s backup ‘combative’ midfielder. He played well enough against Brentford and Huddersfield to ensure Pearson’s absence wasn’t felt too strongly, but we need to see more from him in order to decide whether he can truly replace Pearson long-term. Without regular playing time, it’s hard to tell, but he’s had some decent cup displays, and hopefully there’s more to come. 6
Had this been written a month ago, Browne would have got a lower mark. However, in recent weeks, we’ve started to see Browne inch his way back to form. He was impressive in the second half against Blackburn Rovers, and scored against Huddersfield Town last week. It’s been difficult for Browne this season with Daniel Johnson taking his spot as the number 10, but hopefully he’s now getting back to his best and can kick on over the coming weeks and months. 6
North End’s club-record signing is still yet to make an appearance in the Championship. Competition for places is strong, and Bayliss is just having to remain patient for now. When he has been given a chance in the cup, he’s looked like a very talented young player, but we just haven’t seen enough of him just yet. 4
January’s big-money signing had a disrupted pre-season due to injury, and it’s no great surprise that he started the season slowly. Some have been a little harsh on him, especially after a hard-working display against Leeds, but it’s fair to say Potts hasn’t hit last season’s heights. Hopefully he’ll get up and running again soon, but Potts himself will probably admit it hasn’t gone to plan for him this season. 5
When Wigan wanted Johnson over the summer, a number of fans wanted him to go. Alex Neil responded by putting him in a number 10 role, and it’s been a masterstroke. Johnson has hit eight goals and four assists in just 14 Championship games, though five of those goals were penalties. Appears to influence the game more going forward, and has been a big reason for the great start to the season. 9
Came into the season with big questions about his role under Neil, but has been taking his chances. With five goals in 11 games in all competitions this season, Harrop was really started to impact games – something that he struggled to do in the past. A little more creativity would really make him a force to be reckoned with, and he’s just missed a month of action with an injury. From the fringes of Neil’s squad to making a real impact, even if from the bench, this has been a decent start for Harrop. 7
Some find Barkhuizen frustrating, but he’s been impressive this season. The winger has racked up seven goals and two assists in all competitions this season, really showing some of his best form again. He filled in up front when needed, and has made himself one of the first names on the teamsheet in the face of competition from Billy Bodin. Still seems a little underrated by sections of the Preston fanbase, but his contribution this season has been huge. 8
Neil seems to have now accepted that Maguire is better on the left flank than as a striker. He’s chipped in well with three goals and two assists and has generally been more reliable than in years gone by (touch wood). The Irishman hasn’t been a natural replacement for Callum Robinson, but he’s played well and won a couple of penalties too. Hopefully, there’s more to come this season after a decent start. 7
Green *was* signed as a replacement for Robinson, joining on loan from Aston Villa in August. So far though, Green has made almost no impact. A goal against Bradford City in the cup was a good start, but he’s yet to start a league game. Even when playing over an hour against Swansea City and Hull City, Green didn’t make a big impact. There’s still time for Green, but he’s been arguably the biggest disappointment this term. 3
Still one of the stranger signings of the Neil era, Ginnelly has played 10 minutes of Championship football this season. His one start in any competition came at left back, the first time he has ever played there, and he played well considering his inexperience there. It’s still hard to see him contributing in the Championship though, having contributed little in a Preston shirt so far. 3
As is often the case with Bodin, there have been flashes of real quality, but injury means we haven’t seen him play for two months. Brings something different to the side with his flair and dribbling, which he showed with a superb goal at Nottingham Forest. It would be interesting to see him resume the striker role he played in that game. Hopefully Bodin comes back firing, but for now, his season is one of unfulfilled promise. 6
Much like Browne, if this had been done a month ago, his rating would have been very different. The striker was barely seen before coming on against Blackburn, and he made a huge impact in turning that game around. He was impressive at Charlton, winning a penalty in that game, before scoring and again dominating against Huddersfield Town. Balancing out those early struggles with recent form is tough, but hopefully Stockley will now contribute consistently moving forward. 6
Particularly impressive against Barnsley, linking up play well in attack. Worked hard against Leeds and Reading without much reward, and then picked up a knock. Came back against Huddersfield Town and couldn’t quite make the ball stick. The 34-year-old is a valuable veteran in a young side, and whilst his quality has dipped a little in his advanced years, he’s shown enough that he can make an impact this season. 5
The hardest player to rate. He was outstanding against Wigan, but cruelly had his season ended just a week later with a major knee injury. With just 104 minutes to his name, any rating seems either too harsh or too much, so we’ll play this one with a straight bat. 5