Preston are out of the FA Cup after an absolute hammering at the hands of Wycombe Wanderers, losing 4-1 at Adams Park.
North End were 3-0 down in the first half, as Frey Onyedinma, Joe Jacobson and Josh Knight all found the net for the hosts.
Emil Riis bagged a goal back before half time as he converted a penalty having been brought down by Ryan Allsop, but a 4-1 thrashing was secured with Alex Samuel’s late goal.
This was an utterly dismal display from Preston; striker Riis was the only shining light in a dire performance, and serious questions have to be asked about North End’s back line.
That starts with this game; the starting back four of Joe Rafferty, Jordan Storey, Andrew Hughes and Josh Earl were exposed time and time again, leading to a half-time reshuffle.
Paul Huntington came on at half time, and whilst North End only conceded once after the break, the entire defensive setup now looks to be of huge concern.
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At right back, Darnell Fisher is out of contract at the end of the season. He has yet to be offered a new deal, and unless there is a U-turn in the coming months, he looks to be leaving for nothing – truly bizarre given his importance to Alex Neil.
Sure, he picks up injuries and suspension too frequently, but letting him walk away seems strange given Preston’s options in that area.
Rafferty is committed, but doesn’t offer enough; he isn’t expansive going forward, he’s limited athletically, he’s susceptible on the back post – as we saw for Wycombe’s opening goal today – and Preston often have to slow down attacks waiting for him to get forward.
At centre back, Patrick Bauer is out for the rest of the season, Huntington is now 33 and won’t be suited for every game, whilst Jordan Storey has regressed so much that there have to be major concerns about him fulfilling his potential at Deepdale.
Storey looked so promising early in 2019, but seems to have taken several steps backwards. There is still some hope for him given his age, but he is struggling right now and may need a loan move elsewhere to get back on track.
Ben Davies is out of contract and is set to leave this summer, with his ability as the left-footed, ball-playing centre back providing real balance to the Preston back line. If he leaves, a left-footed replacement has to be brought in.
The major surprise is that Preston haven’t added another left-footed centre back as cover behind Davies. There seems to have been faith placed in Andrew Hughes and Josh Earl to play as the left-sided centre back if needed, but they don’t seem ready for that in a four-man defence.
It’s imperative that Preston add at least one left-footed centre back, leaving Hughes and Earl to fight it out at left back. Hughes isn’t all that exciting going forward, whilst Earl is still shaky defensively; it may be a horses for courses situation.
This defence needs a re-jig. Two centre backs should be brought in, but at least one right back also needs to be a priority, with Preston’s lack of investment at the back starting to really show without the quality of Davies.
Fisher, Rafferty and Hughes were all brought in on cheap deals and Bauer was a free transfer, with Storey the only major addition at around £750,000 from Exeter City in 2018.
This back line looks set for big changes soon, and if Preston want to push towards the top six, Neil needs to be provided with some real improvements in defence.