Preston travel to take on Nottingham Forest in the Championship this weekend, and will be hoping to pick up a first away point in the league this season.
Defeats at Millwall and Swansea City mean North End could do with a result on the road. The midweek Carabao Cup win over Hull City at least keeps the momentum going, after beating Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday.
A trip to the City Ground will be difficult, even if Alex Neil led North End to a 1-0 win there last season. Preston were decimated through injuries that day but still managed to win, and Neil will be looking for a repeat display.
However, he’ll have to keep some key Forest players quiet. Lewis Grabban stands out in that regard, but the key man for Forest is a player who was once right under Preston’s nose; Joe Lolley.
Lolley, 27, is now best known for being one of the Championship’s most dangerous wide men. With 11 goals and 11 assists last season, Lolley enjoyed a fine campaign. He was even the subject of major transfer speculation this summer, with boyhood club Aston Villa keen according to Sky Sports.
Valued at more than £10million, Lolley has come a long way over the years – and some may not know his backstory in Preston. The wide man was born in Birmingham, growing up a huge Villa fan. Once part of Birmingham City’s youth side, Lolley ended up in Preston, as he studied Sports Coaching at UCLan.
Eventually, Kidderminster Harriers swooped to sign Lolley in 2013, having turned out for UCLan’s Men’s Team alongside playing for Littleton FC. Since then, Lolley has enjoyed a meteoric rise, from non-league football to the Premier League with Huddersfield Town and now Forest.
It’s somewhat galling that such a talented player was right under Preston’s nose, yet slipped the net. We wondered whether North End actually showed any interest in Lolley back then, so got in touch with his former UCLan coach Shaun Spencer.
He told us that Preston showed no interest in Lolley, but neither did local clubs Fleetwood Town, Bury or Blackpool. Even further down the pyramid, Kendal Town, Barrow and Burscough weren’t keen.
Spencer even tried to recommend Lolley to Blackpool once he was established in non-league football, but again they said no. Fortunately, Kidderminster took a chance on him – and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I scouted Joe in the University try-outs and signed him up to the first team straight away,” said Spencer. “After a couple of games it was obvious he was a different class, even though he was quite skinny. After about a month I spoke to him about playing semi-pro with the aim of doing the same thing at that level. I had been working with Manchester United / Manchester City scouts so I had a decent scouting eye.”
“I had a friend speak to Fleetwood but they showed no interest, Preston showed no interest along with other teams such as Bury, Blackpool etc. I spoke to Kendal and Barrow and told them they really should give him a look, but again not really interested, but said maybe he could have a run with the reserves.”
“The funniest story is I drove him to Burscough, my home town, and spoke to the owner at the time. We arranged a University 11 vs Burscough 11 which I ended up playing in. The Burscough first team manager was watching with the owner. During the game, Joe had scored five. I spoke with the first team manager of Burscough and he said: “He’s okay, but no better than what we’ve got, he also holds onto the ball too much.” I later convinced the manager that he’s going to cost the club nothing so what do they have to lose.”
“Later on, when I was working with Blackpool, I tried to suggest signing Joe but because he was at Conference level they said he wouldn’t be good enough at that level,” he added.
It’s hard to be too critical of North End for missing Lolley. Other local clubs, even those in non-league, didn’t think he was worth signing. Knowing a player of his quality was right under Preston’s nose is a little frustrating now, and it may be wise to keep close tabs on the UCLan side for potential future talents.
Lolley’s success having been playing in Preston certainly stings, and it will hurt even more if he finds the net against North End this weekend.