Football is back after a three-month break, and Preston returned with a frustrating 1-1 draw away at Luton Town on Saturday afternoon.
The global pandemic means this isn’t a landscape we have seen before. Games are being played behind closed doors, and it’s unclear when fans will even be able to return.
Another change is to contracts. Many players are set to be out of contract on June 30th, and have been signing short-term deals to ensure they can see out the season until its delayed end.
For Preston, some players won’t be kept on for the extended season. Goalkeeper Michael Crowe and striker Connor Simpson are both set to leave when their deals end on June 30th.
Declan Rudd and Mathew Hudson have signed longer-term extensions, so it’s now down to Tom Clarke and Paul Gallagher as Preston seek to keep them.
Both players will be out of contract a week today. Today is the deadline for giving players short-term deals, and agreements – at the time of writing – still haven’t been reached with the pair.
North End are now just hours away from losing both players at least until the end of the season, and possibly for good if other clubs fancy them.
The situation surrounding Gallagher is the most surprising. He started in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Luton Town, and remains a key player for Alex Neil at 35. The veteran has managed to rack up six goals and two assists this season, and plays an important role in midfield.
Add in that he has begun his coaching career with North End this season, and it would be a shock to see him leave. Many want to see Gallagher retire as a Preston player and stick around as a coach long-term, so today is a critical day for his Preston career.
The Clarke situation is a little different. He has played just 10 league games this season, and has often struggled. He appears to have lost a touch of pace and doesn’t offer enough going forward to play at right back, whilst Ben Davies, Patrick Bauer, Paul Huntington and Jordan Storey are ahead of him at centre back.
Clarke has been a great servant at Deepdale for seven years now. He became an instant hero for his winning goal against Blackpool just months after arriving, he has played more than 200 games for North End and is current club captain.
Seeing him leave will be an emotional one for fans, but the time may be right for him to move on this summer – even if the club do thrash out a short-term agreement today.
Alex Neil may want both players on board for the run-in, but with just hours to go, this is a difficult situation for Preston to be in – and one that will be of utmost important throughout the day.