It’s a recurring theme for Preston North End to be linked with former players, whether it’s returning still in the playing capacity or as part of the backroom staff.
Therefore it is little surprise to see Gareth Ainsworth and Michael Appleton with short odds with the bookmakers to become Alex Neil’s replacement.
Appleton ticks plenty of boxes, and you can read more on that here on the website.
Gareth Ainsworth however has already shown Preston on more than one occasion that he could be the right fit for the job.
Let’s take you back to Sunday 3rd May, 2009. It was the last game of the Championship season, and Preston North End took on Queens Park Rangers at Deepdale.
North End needed a win and results elsewhere to go there way to reach the play-offs. Thanks to Sean St Ledger’s winner, The Lilywhites finished sixth and squeezed in by the barest of margins. Gareth Ainsworth was in the QPR dugout that day as caretaker manager.
The R’s had nothing to play for in the last game of the season, but if you remember, they did not just roll over for us. Ainsworth’s side pushed and pushed and even in the last few minutes came close to an equaliser with two efforts being cleared off the line. It showed the type of side that Ainsworth would manage; never giving up, regardless of the importance of the fixture.
After being caretaker manager at QPR on a couple of occasions, his full time opportunity came at Wycombe Wanderers arrived in 2012. It’s fair to say he has worked wonders at that club since.
The Chairboys were battling in League Two when he took over, and he helped them survive the drop to non-league football. In 2015 he took them to the League Two play-off final, but lost out to Southend on penalties. In 2018 they went up automatically, and just two years later he led them to another promotion.
This season has been the club’s first ever at this level. They had one of the lowest budgets in League One last season, so in the Championship it was always going to be a struggle.
Their position of 24th this season is no surprise. They have battled all season but have lacked any goalscoring prowess, though they have picked up draws against high flyers Watford and Brentford as well as beating Cardiff City.
Furthermore, on three occasions this season, Ainsworth and Wycombe have outperformed Preston. In the league encounter at Deepdale earlier in the season, it finished 2-2, but North End were lucky with both of their goals.
In the FA Cup, Wycombe ran out comfortable winners with a 4-1 victory, and ex-North Ender Daryl Horgan particularly impressed.
Finally, just a over a week ago they beat Preston again at Adams Park, 1-0. It was the manner of the victory which was very poor from Preston’s point of view. Wycombe were solid throughout and it was a result which helped lead to Neil’s eventual departure. On each occasion, Ainsworth’s tactics trumped Neil’s, and with a far inferior side on paper.
Ainsworth has been criticised for his long-ball tactics. However, he has worked wonders with a Wycombe side full of players with limited Championship experience. They were not expected to be in this league when Ainsworth took over. Let it be considered that he is doing the best with what he has to work with.
Give him more talented players, and he may incorporate a different style. It’s a results business, and he has been one of the most consistent managers in the Football League for the best part of a decade.
He’s a legend in the eyes of pretty much every club he has been at. Wycombe for obvious reasons, QPR he was liked on and off the pitch and at Lincoln City he was voted one of their 100 greatest ever players. Who can forget in his third spell with Preston, when he played on with a blood soaked bandage around his head?
He loves this club, and there’s no doubt he would jump at the opportunity to be manager as well. Imagine the passion from him in the dugout. The fans would back him from the very start, and he would relish the chance to take this club to the promised land.
You can just see the scenes after a win at Deepdale, of him walking towards the tunnel, fist pumping the air much to the delight of the North End faithful.