Preston’s 2-0 loss at Fulham was the third defeat in the last four games, and the goalscoring record in those four games is a major concern.
North End have scored just twice in the last four games, failing to find the net against Millwall, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham. One of the two goals scored was a penalty against Hull City, with Alan Browne’s header against the Tigers the only one from open play.
That’s a major concern. Preston are being made to pay for not bringing in a striker in January, as it seems that Alex Neil doesn’t quite know which of his strikers to trust.
Seani Maguire has scored once in his last 28 games for North End, whilst David Nugent has scored just once this season. Then you come to Jayden Stockley – and he appears to be the big conundrum right now.
Stockley hasn’t exactly fared much better in front of goal, scoring twice this term. Yet whilst Maguire has logged more than 2600 minutes of Championship action this season, Stockley is down on just 787 minutes.
Stockley has been limited to jus six starts and 16 substitute appearances in the Championship, but fans are begging for Stockley to be given more of a chance; after all, Maguire and Nugent aren’t exactly faring any better.
The 26-year-old made a big impact as a substitute against Hull, setting up Browne’s header with a great cross. Yet come Saturday at Fulham, it was more of the same; Stockley just 24 minutes as a substitute.
He hasn’t started a game since the FA Cup defeat to Norwich City, ironically a game that he actually impressed in. You have to go back to December 7th for the last time Stockley started a league game.
So where do we go from here? With a lack of goals, you’d assume that Stockley would be in line to play, but Neil seems reluctant to start him – and that’s becoming a big conundrum as we enter the final 10 games of the season.
Fans have built up Stockley so much, arguably beyond his actual ability now. He’s suddenly become the answer to all North End’s problems, almost as if the longer he sits on the bench, the more hyped up he becomes.
The problem is that much of Neil’s style is built on the pressing from the front. Stockley’s lack of mobility holds him back in this regard, and if we tried to get inside the mind our Neil, that’s our best guess at why Stockley doesn’t start more.
Neil wants to set the tempo from the front, and whilst he isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, Maguire is better suited to that than Stockley. Another factor is that playing Stockley does somewhat force North End to go longer, as seen against Blackburn Rovers in October. Yet when long balls are knocked towards the diminutive Maguire, you begin to wonder whether Preston are shooting themselves in the foot.
Stockley is big, strong, can win balls in the air and battle away against centre backs, but the way he has been built up as the saviour seems a little far for us. Yes, he deserves more than 800 minutes of playing time at this point in the season, but he isn’t the ideal mobile, pressing attacker that Neil likes, and throwing in Stockley would see Preston lose some impetus in other areas.
With a lack of goals, Neil may be forced to turn to Stockley sooner rather than later, even if his best role in this setup may be as a game-changing substitute rather than the man to rely on in attack, which is more of an indictment on North End’s recruitment post-Jordan Hugill than anything else.