On 21st March 2021 Preston North End parted company with Alex Neil after just under four years in charge. At the time North End were 16th in the Championship with just one win from the last nine games.
It was sad to see Alex go but most fans felt a change was needed. Fast forward seven months and the club has gone backwards rather than making any progress.
The running of the club has been nothing short of a disaster and you’d have to really scrape the barrel to find any positives of late. The club are now 19th in the Championship with one win from the last nine league games.
Here’s three key areas that Preston North End have particularly failed in since that day in March that now see the club facing a bleak future.
The choice of manager
Frankie McAvoy told Sky Sports that he never had any aspirations of being a manager. He was given the job temporarily to see out last season and it went better than anyone could have imagined.
Under Frankie the team finished the season well with 17 points from eight games. It wasn’t easy on the eye though and the goals were mainly through luck and scrappy set pieces. The new formation of five at the back had produced the results but it wasn’t clear that this was the best set-up for this set of players.
Of course you have to remember at the tail end of the season many sides have already put their feet up with little to play for. There’s no question Frankie did a job at that point, he did an important job and one that was required to ensure we stayed in the Chanpionship. However it should have been left there.
The club needed a fresh approach with new ideas. Key players had left and it was time to transition to a new Preston North End. Perhaps Frankie could have stayed on the back room staff but he shouldn’t have been given the managers job. This is a man who has worked under Alex Neil for the best part of a decade and would share many similar ideas to him. We were effectively appointing a less experienced Neil when we needed to go in a different direction.
The appointment of Frankie McAvoy as the club’s permanent manager was met with a somewhat muted and deflated response. It wasn’t what many wanted but you could understand why it had happened. The club had gone with the easy option instead of taking a risk elsewhere. As it turns out this was the big risk.
Many have said the 54 year-old is learning on the job so should be given time. Unfortunately we don’t have time. The squad isn’t good enough to have someone learning game by game. If we get relegated than we can’t just be happy that McAvoy has learnt a bit on how to be a manager.
The alternative options could be talked about forever but at the very least former North Enders Gareth Ainsworth, Callum Davidson or Michael Appleton would have had us a lot more prepared for the Lancashire Derby with Blackpool.
Recruitment has been a total failure
Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Darnell Fisher left in the winter transfer window last season. It was inevitable seeing them go, and it would prove to be a near impossible task to replace them. North End brought in a raft of loan signings in that same window to see them to the end of the season.
Greg Cunningham and Ched Evans would go on to sign permanent contracts but have hardly featured this season due to the form of Josh Earl and injury respectively.
Sepp van den Berg and Daniel Iversen are now in their second loan spell with the club and have been huge successes. Both are key players in the team now but will undoubtedly enjoy great careers at a higher level than this.
Liam Lindsay also returned but probably shouldn’t have done. He wasn’t an improvement on what we already had, and doesn’t get into a back three when there is a fully fit squad. Andrew Hughes a natural left back, outshines Lindsay now who has already had to settle for a back up spot.
Ali McCann was the big signing of the summer in terms of money spent costing over a million from St Johnstone. He came highly rated but has already suffered an injury which has kept him out for the past three weeks. Whilst he may bring a ‘Pearson’ like quality to the team he also has a lot of competition on his hands. Preston have an abundance of centre midfielders who would all consider themselves worthy of a starting position. The fact last season’s player of the year, Ryan Ledson couldn’t make it into the team for the Blackpool game says a lot, when that is a perfect game for him.
Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson, and Ben Whiteman are also favourites in that position, whilst Brad Potts is an option as well. McCann may be talented but that money shouldn’t necessarily have been spent there. There is of course another expensive midfielder out on loan. Tom Bayliss is with Wigan Athletic with his stuttering Preston career now into its third season.
The injuries to our new signings has become somewhat of a joke, with many suggesting that the new training ground could be cursed. Matthew Olusunde has yet to make a matchday squad this season. Izzy Brown is ruled out of the season, whilst Connor Wickham lasted just a few minutes into his first and only start for the club. Josh Murphy is now on the sidelines after only being given 77 minutes by McAvoy so far.
Jamie Thomas was the wildcard signing of the summer arriving from Bamber Bridge in seventh tier. However he wasn’t including in the 25 man squad submitted for the Championship so is consigned to the reserves and cup games until a change can be made in January. Overall the incoming transfers of late have been a shambles.
Fans feel alienated again
Throughout the pandemic the club made efforts to stay connected with the fans, and did their best with phone calls from players to some supporters as well as plenty charitable causes during the tough times.
Season ticket prices were kept at a reasonable rate for the return of the fans, and supporters were excited at returning to Deepdale only to be met by a 4-1 defeat to Hull City; a team who have only won once since. We had been promised that the club would be in a strong position in the transfer wndow in comparison to the other teams.
Things have quickly turned sour though now. The transfers didn’t come to fruition aside from the fee spent on Ali McCann. The addition of James Beet as a recruitment analyst has yet to yield any results. The fans are often reminded that they should be lucky they have a club to support that is in the second tier of English football.
Early on in the season The Lilywhites travelled away to play Huddersfield Town in a game lacking any quality from either side. Preston failed to have a shot on target and there seemed to be a real lack of effort already, so early in the season. The away fans rightly expressed their disgust at such a lethargic display, which didn’t sit right club captain Alan Browne. He chose to have a go back at some fans which just exaggerated tensions further.
McAvoy’s remarks after a rare win the other week against Coventry City didn’t help matters. Taking issue with the disappointed supporters this season who have had to endure some torrid performances, and stating that some may be annoyed that his side won. He has become stubborn with his formation and seems to believe the team are making progress and playing well, which is so far from reality.
The standards are so low, but McAvoy doesn’t have anything to compare it to as a manager so everything seems a bonus to him.
Of course the passing of club owner Trevor Hemmings brought a dark day to the club. He took us through so much, and kept the club going. What was particularly dispiriting was that the team failed to deliver a performance ‘the boss’ deserved in the next fixture against Derby County. In fact the first 70 minutes was atrocious.
The fans believe they deserve more. We’re not asking for the world, or expecting to run away with this league. But the decision making especially in the last year has been so poor, that the club risks sliding down into even darker times.