Preston return to action this evening, travelling to St Andrews to take on Birmingham City in a crucial game for both teams.
North End haven’t started 2021 well, losing all three games in all competitions. Birmingham are enduring a woeful run of form at home, so both teams need the points tonight.
For Alex Neil, he will just be hoping to see his side hit the back of the net; in the three games since New Year, Preston have only scored once.
The man to score that goal was Emil Riis, and whilst it was a penalty in the 4-1 thrashing at Wycombe Wanderers, he was arguably the only player to come out of that game with any credit.
Riis at least tried to make something happen that day. He won another penalty, scoring it himself, and at least looked like a threat when North End managed to find him in the channels.
Yet when Preston faced Bristol City on Saturday, Riis was a substitute. The Dane only came on for 12 minutes, leaving many baffled as to why he is being left on the bench so regularly.
His last league start came in the 2-1 defeat at Barnsley on the 15th of December. Riis came in for criticism that night as he chose to go for goal himself at 1-0 up when he could have passed to a teammate; Preston ended up losing 2-1.
Is Riis being punished for that miss? Well, his next five league appearances have all been as a substitute. He looked bright against Bristol City in December, but didn’t get much success in 30 minutes at Derby County.
In the last three league games, Riis has played just 47 minutes. That’s nowhere near enough for a player who has largely looked like Preston’s main goal threat this season.
Yes, Preston will want to take it slowly with the 22-year-old. This is his first full season of senior English football, and Neil may feel that he needs to be patient with Riis, taking him in and out of the side to manage him carefully.
Now though, it’s time we saw more of him again. One stat we pointed out yesterday was that Preston managed just five successful dribbles in the whole game against Bristol City on Saturday; against Huddersfield Town in October, Riis recorded seven on his own.
He has that ability to take on defenders and make something happen, his pace on the counter is terrifying and seems more of a nuisance to deal with than any of Preston’s other strikers.
We would love to see Riis start tonight at Birmingham. Preston need an injection of quality up top, and the £1.2million signing from Randers can provide it, as we have seen many times this season.
We took to Twitter on Tuesday night to ask fans whether Riis should be leading the Preston attack moving forward, and there was a strong outpouring of support for the Dane.
Some suggested that Riis ‘always looks so good’ and is a ‘quality player’, believing that he should have the attack built around him and needs to be playing now in order to be at his best next season.
Let’s see if Neil goes with him at Birmingham tonight, but after more than a month without a league start, we think it’s time to see Riis from the get to again.