Here are our four talking points as Preston North End drew 0-0 with Reading at Deepdale in the Championship on Sunday…
Iversen impresses again
Preston saw Declan Rudd go down with an injury earlier this month, meaning Daniel Iversen was brought in on loan from Leicester City for the rest of the season. The Dane had barely played in Belgium with OH Leuven, and returned to England for playing time with Preston.
So far, he looks pretty damn good. Iversen impressed at Birmingham City in midweek, and was even better against Reading, making a string of fine saves to preserve his clean sheet and then earn praise from Alex Neil.
“He’s a good goalie, he makes a terrific save down to his left for the one that was offside. He’s got two clean sheets from his three games so far so it’s a great start for him,” said Neil.
Can Preston keep him? Well, on the one hand, Iversen turns 24 this summer and needs to be playing consistent first-team football. Is that going to happen at Leicester, where compatriot Kasper Schmeichel is the undoubted first-choice?
On the other, Iversen has a contract until 2025, so Preston would have to pay up to sign Iversen permanently – and that may be tough to pull off, with North End possibly just sticking with Rudd long-term.
The mixed emotions surrounding Ben Davies
Iversen was one of the star men, and Ben Davies was another. The centre back was outstanding against Reading, showing fine reading of the game and composure on the ball throughout, stepping out of defence to play into midfield too.
It’s a joy to see such an elegant defender in action. The 25-year-old has been superb throughout Neil’s time as Preston manager, and whilst he doesn’t always get the praise he deserves nationally, he is undoubtedly one of the Championship’s top defenders.
Yet whilst his performance on Sunday was great to see, it was tinged with pain and sadness given that we ultimately know Davies looks likely to leave North End very soon.
Davies is out of contract at the end of the season, and having spent his entire career with Preston, few could blame him for wanting a change of scenery when his deal ends this summer.
“Top player isn’t he? He really is,” Neil told Lancs Live after the game. “I’ll be honest, I go into most games thinking ‘I’ve got a 9/10 at left centre back, what are the other lads going to give me?’ His consistency levels are excellent,” he added.
With just a week of the window to go, Davies could leave the club imminently, and just how Preston will find a replacement for Davies in that left-sided centre back role remains to be seen.
Full back areas remain a concern
Preston went into the game with two full backs ultimately not playing in their preferred positions.
Midfielder Alan Browne started at right back, whilst right back Joe Rafferty was called in to play at left back after Andrew Hughes pulled out of the game in the warm-up.
Browne is serviceable at right back and did actually do a pretty decent job against Ovie Ejaria, but that he is seemingly ahead of Darnell Fisher in the pecking order is a bizarre state of affairs.
Fisher is out of contract this summer, and hasn’t yet been given an offer. Maybe Neil wants to build with Browne at right back moving forward, but another option is needed there given that Rafferty is struggling this season.
He did a job at left back, but it’s clear that a team pursuing promotion would need better. He looked panicked in possession, slowed down attacks and then gave away a penalty, which Lucas Joao fired wide.
Being called into action so late wasn’t ideal of course, and Neil was somewhat unlucky with Hughes’ shoulder injury flaring up and Josh Earl picking up an ankle knock in training, but the full back issues have been ongoing for a while now – even if Neil did defend Rafferty after the game.
“I thought he was ready, he was focused and I thought he put a really strong performance in. I thought he adapted and competed well,” said Neil.
Ben Whiteman makes himself an instant favourite
Preston’s big January signing was midfielder Whiteman, as he came in from Doncaster Rovers for a seven-figure fee.
The 24-year-old had shown his class in League One for a long time, so hearing that North End wanted him sent fans into overdrive.
The early signs are great; Whiteman looks superb, and the way he was spraying passes and switching play against Reading will have reminded fans of Paul Gallagher.
One moment really made Whiteman a fan favourite on Sunday though, and it was something spotted during the Sky Sports coverage of the game.
When Joao fired his penalty wide of the target, the camera caught Whiteman turning around and celebrating passionately, showing how committed he already is to the North End cause.
Preston will need new leaders, and Whiteman looks like he could be one. Yes, it’s a brief moment of passion, but it’s the sort of thing that can really endear a new signing to a fanbase.