Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers was an important one for North End; after all, it was something of a local derby.
One thing that has been overlooked though, is that it also brought up up six months at the club for Lukas Nmecha.
The striker joined North End back on August 9th, sparking fanfare amongst Preston fans – and for good reason.
Nmecha, 20, had emerged as one of the top talents in Manchester City’s academy, and already had England Under-21 football under his belt when he arrived at Deepdale.
You only have to look back at the responses when North End confirmed the deal to see what a coup Nmecha was. Fans had dreamed of Nmecha replicating Tammy Abraham’s 26-goal campaign on loan at Bristol City in the 2016-17 season.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened. Nmecha has scored just one goal in 25 games for North End, though six assists is an impressive return.
So what’s gone wrong?
Part of the issue is circumstance. North End were crying out for a big, physical lone striker to lead the line after Jordan Hugill’s exit. Lukas Nmecha is not that player. He’s shown glimpses of growing into that role, especially in the 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic in October.
It’s been mostly fleeting though, and it’s a lot to ask of Nmecha to play that role. He has come from youth football with virtually no senior experience, and was quickly thrust into the role of being a leading Championship striker.
Experienced centre backs have often proven too much for Nmecha, and there’s no great shame in that. After all, the purpose of the loan is really for Nmecha to develop for Manchester City’s benefit down the line.
Part of that naivety has been a problem though. There have been games where Nmecha has floated around, attempting fancy flicks and tricks to little avail. One game sticks in the memory in this sense; Blackburn at home. At 2-1, Nmecha was still attempting flamboyant flicks when real substance was needed to regain control of the game. Alex Neil spotted this, brought on Louis Moult for Nmecha, and went on to win 4-1.
Nmecha is often playing like a player who has been too good for youth football, but senior football requires that little bit more. He’s far from the only player to be of that ilk for Preston though.
Andy Carroll struggled on loan from Newcastle in 2007, as he wasn’t physically ready for his designated role. Three years after his North End loan ended, he’d joined Liverpool for £35m.
Danny Welbeck was much like Nmecha when he joined on loan from Manchester United. A young player from a big academy, almost coasting by out of habit. Welbeck was more talented at the time than Nmecha is now, but that approach seems somewhat similar.
Finally, Josh King is a similar case too. He was a great athlete when he joined in 2010, but couldn’t carve out a real role at North End before becoming a top Premier League striker with Bournemouth.
Nmecha is far from a lost cause, even if some fans will say that Nmecha isn’t good enough. The cases of Carroll, Welbeck and King show that youngsters written off on loan at Deepdale can be successful Premier League strikers.
In fact, it wouldn’t even be a huge surprise if Nmecha goes on loan elsewhere next season and scores for fun. That first loan spell for a young striker can be a real learning curve, and that’s the case with Nmecha.
With Jayden Stockley signed and Seani Maguire back from injury, Nmecha’s role moving forward should be interesting. Nmecha’s best role for now may be cutting in from the left flank, as he has shown promise out wide.
Manchester City fans will be keen to know how Nmecha is getting on; whilst it hasn’t been quite as goal-laden as we all expected, Nmecha remains a promising player learning his trade, and there is enough raw talent to suggest that his career will take him to a very high level.
North End is just a pit stop for him, and this tricky season may end up benefiting him in the long run.