Preston are back in action at Deepdale this afternoon, hosting Charlton in a vital game. North End are five games without a win, and Alex Neil will be desperate to find a win today.
As we noted earlier this week, the midfield area has been an issue of late. Paul Gallagher hasn’t been at his best, and only two other players can really match his technical ability in the engine room.
One of them is Daniel Johnson, who only returned to training this week. The other is Tom Bayliss, who was Preston’s big-money summer signing from Coventry City.
Touted as the long-term heir to Gallagher in the deep-lying playmaker role, Bayliss has found first-team football hard to come by. The 20-year-old has yet to make a single Championship appearance this season, and his start against Norwich City in the FA Cup a fortnight ago was his first game since the end of September.
Bayliss showed some promising signs in that Norwich game, but has now picked up an injury. In a bounce game earlier this week, Bayliss took a blow to his ankle, meaning he will now be out for a couple of weeks.
Given his lack of playing time, that may not seem all that terrible, but it seems that Bayliss has been really pushing for playing time lately. With Gallagher struggling of late, Bayliss stepping up would have been ideal, so this injury blow is very frustrating.
In fact, Neil has spoken to Lancs Live about Bayliss, comparing his situation to that of Callum Robinson when Neil took the Preston job back in 2017.
Robinson initially struggled to get into the North End side under Neil, but then raised his play to meet Neil’s demands – and now plays in the Premier League with Sheffield United after a big move last summer.
Neil now feels that Bayliss has shown the same jump Robinson did more than two years ago, showing the ‘determination and hunger’ to really thrive at Preston – and that’s why the injury is so irritating to the Scot, with Bayliss finally pushing for more playing time.
“It’s hard to describe (what he’s done better),” said Neil. “The best way I can put it is a bit like with Callum Robinson. When I came in he (Robinson) wasn’t really doing as asked and needed to do better so we dropped him out for 10 or 11 games, he came back and it just all clicked. It’s hard to say what it is, but he got in the right positions, was a threat and got up and down the pitch. He looked confident, stronger and more athletic – it’s hard to explain why but if you’re not playing you need to have an inner-drive to get yourself into the team.”
“You can’t just roll over, get your belly tickled and feel sorry for yourself. There needs to be more than that and that’s why these guys are top professionals. These are the 5% of kids that played football who have made it. That’s why they’ve made it, because they’ve got that determination and hunger to go and prove what they can do. To be fair to Tom he’s been showing all those traits in the last two weeks which is why it’s frustrating,” he added.