Preston lost again this afternoon, falling to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Rotherham United.
North End were behind inside the first minute as Joe Rafferty headed Freddie Ladapo’s shot into his own goal, and Preston laid siege to the Rotherham goal but just couldn’t score.
Ben Wiles made the Lilywhites pay in the second half by firing Rotherham 2-0 up, with Ched Evans’ goal unable to spark a fightback for Preston.
That’s now four defeats in the last six league games for Preston, picking up just four points in that run – and here are some of the key talking points from the latest disappointment…
Defensive shambles costs North End
This was always going to be a tricky game defensively. Two of the back five – Daniel Iversen and Liam Lindsay – were January additions, Joe Rafferty is woefully out of form and Andrew Hughes has had his ups and downs of late.
Rafferty’s tough time continued with an own goal inside the first minute, and he never really recovered. He was caught out for Rotherham’s second goal too, and just never really looked comfortable in or out of possession.
Rafferty was thrown into the side because Alan Browne was out with a knock. Preston chose not to replace Darnell Fisher after his move to Middlesbrough, instead deciding that midfielder Browne would play there. In the first game after the window, Browne wasn’t available, and Preston’s right back problems were clear again.
Anthony Gordon impresses, substitution explained
One of the bright sparks today was winger Gordon, who was making his first appearance for the club since arriving on loan from Everton late on deadline day.
Gordon was direct and dangerous in the first half, running at defenders and causing problem, even going close to scoring with a curling right-footed effort that narrowly cleared the crossbar.
Fans were baffled in the second half when Gordon was substituted given that North End were chasing goals, with supporters blasting Alex Neil for taking him off in favour of Brad Potts.
Our best explanation is that Gordon hasn’t played 90 minutes of senior football since way back in September, and that came in a Carabao Cup clash with Salford City.
Gordon clearly looks like he will be important for Preston moving forward, so giving him more than an hour and building up his minutes gradually seems like a sensible move for the youngster, especially with a huge game against Blackburn Rovers on the horizon.
Blackburn game coming at worst possible time
Speaking of that Blackburn game, it’s really coming at a bad time for Preston. This is a team clearly in transition, and today’s disjointed performance – especially defensively – doesn’t exactly bode well.
Paul Huntington seemed to pick up an injury, which means Sepp van den Berg and Liam Lindsay trying to cobble together some kind of understanding in just a matter of days.
Preston are struggling in full back areas right now, so the prospect of facing Adam Armstrong and Harvey Elliott won’t exactly will North End fans with confidence ahead of Friday’s trip to Ewood Park.
Yes, Rovers lost 1-0 at QPR today and are far from unbeatable, but Preston look short of confidence and trying to figure out the best team, the best partnerships on the field – hardly something you want to be working on ahead of a big game against a local rival who demolished you 3-0 just a matter months ago.
The Hull fear
This is extreme talk at this point, but it’s still a lingering fear having lost a number of important players in the January window.
Last season, Hull City sold Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in the January transfer window. The Tigers then picked up just six points from window closing to the end of the season, and suffered relegation to League One having harboured play-off dreams entering 2020.
Can anyone really rule this out for Preston now? Darnell Fisher, Ben Davies and Ben Pearson have all left the club in January, and whilst replacements have been brought in for two of them, attempting to engineer something of a squad churn in the middle of the season leaves North End open for disaster.
Preston are only eight points clear of the drop now, and having seen Hull plummet after losing key players in January 2020, the ghost of their relegation may just haunt Alex Neil’s men moving forward.