Starting to Look Up Rather than Down - Notes for Preston
Friday, 15th Jan 2016 10:07 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“We’re almost there”, “We are really taking the division by the scruff of the neck now”, “Winning at Bristol goes a long way to securing our status in this division. Although there is still some way to go before that is confirmed we can begin to think of what we might achieve in the other direction.”
“Three league wins on the spin now, fantastic stuff.” Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory at Ashton Gate saw Preston climb to 13th place, 13 points clear of hosts Bristol City in the relegation zone. This win came on the back of home wins over Rotherham and Hull and Lilywhites’ confidence is on the increase.
There is a growing acceptance that the team are safe. “Just looked at the updated table, we’re closer to the play-offs than the relegation zone. A solid mid-table finish at the end of the season will do me fine”, “The worst that can happen now is that we will be playing in this division next season.”
“We are not the most entertaining by a long shot. We need more goals but we are grinding out results and that will keep us in the league”, “We are very good defensively, built on solid foundations from last season. We are hard to beat and clean sheets pick us up points.”
“Keep up the good work Simon”, “I would go for a boring Championship manager over a team with an attacking manager in League One anytime”, “Compare what he inherited to where we are now”, “At the end of the day, Grayson’s brief was to deliver promotion. He delivered, end of discussion.”
“The same dull and boring football will be produced by Grayson no matter what calibre of player the club can afford”, “His approach of not getting beaten has produced dire football to watch for a lot of games”, “Some of his football has been tedious and his safety-first approach does my head in.”
The former Leeds boss has been criticised for the team’s pragmatic style of play. “Grayson has done well but apart from recently the football has been awful”, “I have actually enjoyed the last three years knowing when I turn up to a match there’s a good chance we might actually win the game.”
“Simon is nicely building a Championship squad”, “He is a rock-solid if dour manager who over the long haul will hopefully get us enough points to secure our Championship position. He has the knack of spotting the same weaknesses we see as fans and sorts it out with what he has at his disposal.”
“Grayson appears to be excellent in the transfer market”, “Signing gifted youngsters on the cheap he has got an eye for a good keeper. His teams don’t concede goals, he brings out the best in players who have lost their way, he is committed and popular with players and well respected in football.”
“Bristol played attackingly open but it left the back door ajar, which is the opposite of how we play really”, “If you keep it tight at the back in this division, it’s simply a question of waiting for a good majority of teams to screw up”, “If you hold out, many teams will make mistakes to capitalise on.”
“Our defence has been our main asset this season”, “Being solid defensively has seen us picking up points.” With the joint fifth-best defensive record in the Championship, Preston’s campaign has been built on a platform of good organisation, solid defending and counter-attacking football.
“Possibly an overly solid selection by Simon Grayson”, the starting XI (above) for Tuesday’s win at Ashton Gate matched Bristol City’s 3-5-2 system. Many Lilywhites would see this as their strongest line-up apart from swapping Marnick Vermijl for Calum Woods in the right wing-back role.
While the team’s cautious and patient playing style has been criticised, fans appreciate that Grayson has made the most of the resources at his disposal. With Jermaine Beckford absent since September and Stevie May out for the season, both with knee injuries, they have struggled for options up front.
Grayson has been praised for his judgement and deployment of players. Former Leicester man Paul Gallagher played a key role in Preston’s 1-0 win over Hull on December 28th. Operating from midfield he scored the winning goal and helped dictate the pattern of the game with time and space.
The starting XI (above) against Rotherham on January 2nd ran into problems when the visitors denied Gallagher and John Welsh the same freedom to operate. Grayson switched formation (below) after falling behind and Gallagher was able to prosper given the time and space to flourish out wide.
“Our best bets at the moment are 3-5-2 for hard away games or playing four at the back for matches where we want to attack more. The great thing about having Vermijl on the right and Reach on the left is that there is no need for a change of personnel to morph from one formation to another.”
Bristol City 1 - 2 Preston
“Just back from the game, a spirited performance and we fully deserved to win”, “A massive result in my eyes”, “One of the worst games I have ever seen in the first half with two teams set up not to lose. The second half saw a much improved match from both teams as each searched for a winner.”
“Happy days”, “A well-deserved victory”. After a forgettable first half, the visitors took the lead on 53 minutes when Robins’ defender Nathan Baker headed past his own keeper. City hit back when Aaron Wilbraham took full advantage of static Preston defending to equalise three minutes later.
The Lilywhites secured what was seen as a huge triumph when Greg Cunningham scored against his former team with a brave diving header from a corner with 10 minutes to play. “Our second was a training ground routine and one I would like to see repeated a few times more.”
Peterborough 2 - 0 Preston (FA Cup)
“Now this is the North End I’m used to seeing”, “I wasn’t expecting an FA Cup run this season”, “Just a quick update from the ground, we have been absolutely awful and our midfield is non-existent. Posh are just running through it every time”, “I do feel sorry for the poor souls who did go to this.”
“The thought of a smug Graham Westley on the touchline is enough to send you over the edge.” The one-time Preston boss knocked his former team out of the Cup on Saturday in what was a routine win with goals from Martin Samuelsen and Conor Washington on seven and 52 minutes respectively.
“Our squad is pretty weak after our strongest starting XI”, “We are paying the price for disrespecting the opposition by resting players.” Fans criticised Grayson for fielding a weakened team (above) in which reserve keeper Chris Kirkland and midfielder Josh Brownhill struggled in particular.
“Our areas of concern are the lack of depth in the squad and a lack of goals at the moment”, “We don’t seem to cope with quick mobile midfielders”, “The Championship is our future, not the FA Cup”, “I could not care less about today’s result, staying in this league is far more important to me.”
Preston 2 - 1 Rotherham
“Oh dear, we started another match at a slow tempo and paid the price”, “Bloody hell that was an awful first half. They surely can’t play any worse.” Preston fell behind to a Tony Andreu header on 35 minutes but Grayson’s tactical changes saw the hosts really go on the offensive after the break.
“A game of two contrasting halves”, Eoin Doyle pounced on a failed clearance to equalise on 64 minutes and Millers’ defender Jonson Clarke-Harris headed a Vermijl long throw into his own goal in the last minute to secure the points for the hosts. “You have to make your own luck, well done PNE.”
“A last-minute winner”, “Not the best game but not the worst by a long way, it was a typically hard-fought Championship game that could have gone either way”, “Moving Gallagher wide in a 4-4-2 changed the game”, “It’s great to see the flexibility on the bench and on the pitch to change tactics.”
Goalkeepers and Central Defenders
“Sam Johnstone looked nervous for the first few minutes at Bristol City but he improved as the game went on and made two wonderful saves in the second half”, “His kicking early on was embarrassing but his crucial saves more than made up for it”, “He was superb. We must sign this lad.”
“Welcome home. It would be fantastic if it’s a permanent deal.” With former first-choice keeper Jordan Pickford recalled by parent club Sunderland at the end of last month, 22-year-old Sam Johnstone has returned to Deepdale on an emergency 28-day loan from Manchester United.
Johnstone was glovesman during last season’s successful campaign and his return has been widely welcomed. “We hope we can give you the opportunity to find the form that helped us get promoted with that wonderful win at Wembley”, “A quality keeper worth every penny we spend on him.”
“You would think Bailey Wright is the next Rio Ferdinand the way he is talked about on here. He is decent but not the player some make him out to be.” The 23-year-old youth product and Australia international, “is a bit more mobile and slightly more composed than Paul Huntington on the ball”.
“Wright’s passing with his right foot is okay but he slices it out of play too often with his left. He is perhaps the best of the three centre-backs on the ball but that isn’t saying much”, “The number of times he shanks it out of play is unreal. He is decent but let’s not pretend he’s something he is not.”
“Any ball that comes to Paul Huntington in the air he deals with, but he can be out-thought and out-run too many times.” The 28-year-old ex-Yeovil defender “is technically very poor on the ball, he the last one to step up and his positioning is poor. He’s got a good strong tackle and he is good in the air”.
“What you see is what you get”, “Huntington is excellent while teams keep lobbing balls for him to head clear. Once they start keeping it down and breaking with pace, he struggles”, “He is big hearted and cannot be faulted for commitment, but often he just hoofs the ball straight to the opposition.”
“Tom Clarke always struggles when we are up against pace. When our full-backs get a bit gung-ho it can badly expose him as he has no pace at all.” The 28-year-old ex-Huddersfield man “has never had a bad game for Preston in all the time he has been here. He is the first name on the teamsheet for me.”
“Grayson is exceptionally loyal to Clarke”, “And so he should be. Clarke is rock solid and very rarely lets us down”, “Our best centre-back”, “He has been rock solid since he signed but needs to be played at centre-back and not pulled wide, nor at right-back as he was earlier this season.”
Wing-Backs and Wide Midfielders
“Calum Woods is a capable full-back in a back four but whether he can play as a wing-back is another matter.” The 28-year-old ex-Terrier “was the weak link against Bristol for me. He never got into the game and looked lost at times”, “His woeful attacking attempts were due to being out of position.”
“Woods a decent right-back and looks good on the right of a back three”, “For his technical failings, he’s a solid right-back and has proved useful on the right of a three-man defence as he provides an extra bit of mobility”, “He is a good player, his composure helps defenders who panic on the ball.”
“I was surprised to see Marnick Vermijl dropped against Bristol City if we were using wing-backs.” The 23-year-old loan signing from Sheffield Wednesday, “has been very good in the last couple of months but was woeful at Peterborough”, “He offers more than Woods going forward at a cost of leaving holes to exploit.”
“I like Vermijl. He likes to get forward and he won us the Rotherham game with his long throw.” The former Belgium U21 international “did one fantastic shuffle which left the Rotherham defender for dead”, “I wouldn’t be unhappy if we signed him permanently, he’s a decent squad player.”
“I am glad we have Adam Reach who is a specialist wide attacker”, “He is a good versatile player at this level.” The 22-year-old Boro loanee “is not the quickest but he’s a quality footballer”, “We have had more exciting left wingers at this level before but I wouldn’t call him a bad player.”
“Pace isn’t everything when you have a footballing brain and a bit of vision and awareness of what’s going on around you”, “Reach can beat a player on the outside and cross a ball. Cunningham always looks comfortable knowing Reach will track back when needed, just what we need on the flank.”
“Get Callum Robinson on and give us some pace.” The 20-year-old winger or striker has arrived this month on loan from Aston Villa and has made substitute appearances in the last two games. “He can add pace on either flank”, “He’s young, hungry, skilful has bags of pace and two good feet.”
“We have no real wingers and even if Robinson comes on after 70 minutes and runs at tired full-backs it will inspire the rest of the team”, “He’s a good bench option with his speed and goal threat”, “He has some pace, a bit of raw talent and like to take people on and not just play it safe.”
“I have never seen someone more determined to get his head on a ball than Cunningham for his goal against Bristol.” The 24-year-old former Robin “has a great game on the left which made Woods’s on the right look even poorer”, “How sweet much it have felt for him scoring against his old team?”
Greg with Rotherham's Chris Maguire
“A revelation for us”, “What a great player Cunningham is, good going forward, strong in the tackle, clever as well in winning freekicks and he never stops running”, “He just does not put a foot wrong. It’s hard to win a match from left-back but he contributes every week to us not losing.”
“Peterborough was Josh Brownhill’s big chance and I don’t think his name has been mentioned.” The 20-year-old youth product “is a formerly promising but now seemingly stagnating youngster”, “He did not want the ball”, “He has technique but he hides in games and has gone backwards rapidly.”
“Methinks Messrs Alan Browne and Josh Brownhill have very little in the way of defensive qualities”, “Browne doing the defensive duties? Good luck with that.” The pairing of Brownhill with the 20-year-old ex-Cork City man created weaknesses in Preston’s midfield which Peterborough exploited.
“Bringing Browne on against Rotherham certainly gave us a more attacking look”, “Apart from a few wayward passes he appeared to be well on top in midfield”, “He is an all-round combative midfielder who is capable of scoring a few goals and as likely to be chasing down the opposition in our half.”
Former Leeds midfielder Neil Kilkenny is a fringe player. The 30-year-old “has been a decent player for us but is surplus now”, “He gets a game moving and is a passes well. He looks to take it out from the back but that’s it really”, “He’s a ball player who passes safely but lightweight and can’t tackle.”
“John Welsh has had his good games, like against Hull, but too often he’s found wanting at this level and he looked too slow against Rotherham. “ The 31-year-old ex-Tranmere man “played about five steady passes all game and didn’t go for one tackle or challenge”, “A much reduced veteran.”
“People asked why Welsh didn’t start every week. The answer was in the first half at Peterborough”, “Welsh sat too deep behind a leaderless midfield and that allowed them to dictate the pace and pick us off at will”, “A player with presence, aggression and ball-winning ability a couple of seasons ago.”
Manchester United academy graduate Ben Pearson joined the Lilywhites this month and made his starting debut at Ashton Gate. The 21-year-old “will quickly become a crowd favourite. He gets stuck in, is constantly harrying and he does the simple things well, but doesn’t add presence in midfield”
“Probably the best debut performance I have seen from a Preston player. If you didn’t know it, you would think Pearson played for us all season. Very assured, quick, robust and good slick passing, if he plays like this week-in, week-out what a bargain, a quicker, more mobile version of John Welsh.”
“Goalscoring midfielders are hard to find”, “Johnson isn’t on the field to tackle and harass. What he adds to our team - on his day - going forwards is proper class”, “He’s a playmaker who has scored more than the rest of our squad. Given a free role in the right system he’s by far our best player.”
“Johnson’s a luxury player that makes things happen on his day.” The 23-year-old ex-Aston Villa man “frustrates the hell out of me. His attitude without the ball is so weak and he never seems to put 100 percent into tackles. That said it’s hard to substitute him as he’s one of our biggest goal threats.”
“Daniel offers a goal threat as long as it is to his left foot”, “He is fine when he has the freedom to operate just behind the strikers”, “Long balls are killing DJ. He is better when he gets the ball running at players and picking up passes, not feeding of scraps from Joe Garner’s or defenders’ headers.”
“Gallagher has done well in the holding role but is wasted there as he can do serious damage further up the pitch. He showed that against Rotherham as the game changes once he was moved to a wide attacking role”, “The match-winning change was moving him wide”, “He ripped them to shreds.”
The 31-year-old ex-Blackburn winger or striker “brings the ability to use the ball effectively”, “He had the space against Hull and ran the game from a deep position playing very well. It works well in a 3-5-2 away from home. It didn’t work against Rotherham because they pressed the space well in midfield.”
“Once pushed out wide he ran the show”, “Gallagher can move around the park depending on how the game is panning out at any time”, “He has done a good job in the holding role but is much better and a much more dangerous player when playing behind the strikers or on the left wing.”
“Jordan Hugill is more of an impact player. “ The 23-year-old ex-Port Vale frontman “had a couple of situations where you would hope to see him as a proverbial battering-ram, getting stuck in and showing no fear. These are the things his supporters claim he offers us, but he does none of that.”
“Despite Hugill’s build he strikes me as an extremely lightweight footballer.” He has appeared from the bench in recent games. “He has the desire and passion but I’m not sure he has the technical quality and skill needed at this level”, “He hasn’t had the extended run that Doyle has enjoyed.”
“Doyle, I despair”, “He hasn’t done an awful lot to warrant selection”, “Send him back now, no pace, no skill, no movement and he keeps turning his back on the ball which really makes my teeth itch”, “He missed two sitters at Peterborough after Garner put them on a plate”, “Just plain wasteful”
“Games like Peterborough are the ones where we miss Beckford.” There was some incredulity when the 27-year-old Cardiff loan player scored against the Millers. “Don’t underestimate Grayson’s genius. Anyone who can get Doyle to score should be considered for the England job.”
“Have we got the option of sending Doyle back to Cardiff? If so, I think we should use it”, “He is a better footballer than given credit for and is quite skilful as well but he’s not suited to how we play”, “Right now, I can’t see the case for persisting with Doyle except as an exercise in futility.”
“Garner is power, desire and persistence. Garner is Preston North End”, “Even if he didn’t score for the rest of the season he would be the first name on the team sheet. He gives both centre-backs a workout for 90 minutes”, “He can be unplayable at times and we would be very poor without him.”
“Garner’s all-round play is superb.” The 27-year-old former Watford and Forest frontman “has done well this season with little supply or support. Despite his minimal goal return, he has still been an important figure in leading the line and harassing opponents”, “He is by far the hardest working player in the team.”
“A battering-ram to create the chances which Doyle is missing”, “Joe needs to work on his finishing. He can take an extra touch when a confident or classier striker would take it first time”, “He wants two or three touches on the ball and by that time he has been closed down. Just hit the ball Joey!”
Lilywhites’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“I have got to say Ipswich has to be one of the worst away days in the country”, “A point on Saturday and I will be delighted.” Lilywhites have had little to say about Saturday’s game but their prediction threads have 56% forecasting a draw and 52% of all fans predicting a 1-1 stalemate.
Only 13% have suggested an away win and all of these are by a 1-0 margin. Joe Garner for Preston and Daryl Murphy for us have been seen as the most likely scorers, although several have voted for Brett Pitman and Ryan Fraser, especially after the latter’s terrific goal at Deepdale in August.
They picked up on Steve Evans’s post-match comments after Tuesday’s game: “I'd be a annoyed if I was a Leeds player in a team that had put an eight-match unbeaten run together, lost by a single goal away at Ipswich and in the aftermath been publicly criticised just to save the manager's face.”
Just as with Pompey last week, one Preston fan called for the return of a former hero: “Is there any truth in the rumour that David Nugent is coming back on a one game emergency loan deal for the Ipswich game this weekend? He would be sure to get a couple of goals and a win for us.”
“England's all-time most prolific scorer and the greatest striker to ever turn out for Preston North End. All hail Nugent.”
The busiest Lilywhites’ forum is the very knowledgeable and well-moderated PNE Online.
Photo: Action Images
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