Preston kicked off their Championship campaign with a disappointing defeat, losing 1-0 at Millwall on Saturday.
North End travelled down to The New Dean to start the new season, and were hoping to repeat the 3-1 in February.
However, Alex Neil saw his side serve up a flat performance, failing to register a single shot on target. That meant that Jed Wallace’s first half goal from Connor Mahoney’s cross won the game.
North End couldn’t get back into the game in a toothless performance, and fans have been understandably unhappy.
It was a performance not too dissimilar from the ones towards the end of the season, with two major problems unresolved. Those are a lack of creativity and guile, and problems from crosses.
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Declan Rudd could have done better with Wallace’s shot, but that Mahoney got his cross in was a problem in itself. Tom Clarke – but in at right back with Darnell Fisher not quite ready – backed off and backed off, giving Mahoney the space to pick out his man.
North End fans have now taken to Twitter to blast Clarke’s display, branding the 31-year-old ‘past it’. Some wondered how he’s still club captain six years since his arrival at Deepdale, as he simply isn’t good anymore.
Others just don’t want to see Clarke at right back again, even accusing him of living off past glories.
Clarke once again starting at right back is baffling. He’s a decent enough defender, but he has no pace and offers nothing going forward outside of long diagonals.
Neil continuing to pick Clarke there in Fisher’s absence only serves to highlight the January signing of Joe Rafferty, which looks more and more pointless.
Yes, North End needed cover at right back. After backing away from Accrington’s Callum Johnson and Sheffield United’s Kieron Freeman – Neil’s top targets for the role – North End settled for a bargain basement deal for Rafferty.
The 25-year-old has barely been seen in a North End shirt, but it already looks like Neil isn’t a huge fan. He’s a natural right back, yet centre back Clarke was picked ahead of him.
Rafferty’s signing more looks like more money flushed down the drain when they could have pushed or waited for those prime targets. By settling, North End have added another misfit to the books, and after Clarke started at Millwall, Rafferty is always becoming a forgotten man.