Preston North End’s Deepdale has been a hub of change this summer for many different reasons, but despite that upheaval, this season is shaping up to be a big one for the Lilywhites.
Starting off their third consecutive season in the second tier of English Football there seems to be a different air around the club, one full of confidence and belief.
Callum Robinson, Preston’s number 37, recently spoke to Lancashire Evening Post detailing how well he feels his team can do this season,
I really do think we have a chance of getting play-offs this year.
Statements of belief coming from within the Preston dressing room make it clear to see they are a team to look out for, one that shouldn’t be written off this early on.
The main talking point from a busy summer at the North-West side was the departure of fan favourite Simon Grayson, who took up the vacant managerial position at Sunderland.
Grayson got Preston promoted back in 2015 aided by Jermaine Beckford hat-trick that made sure the Lilywhites didn’t stretch their poor Play Off Final record to ten.
With Grayson departing the club, Preston fans were widely in agreement that any manager that came in could not replicate the feat achieved by his predecessor, but this doesn’t look to be the case.
Alex Neil has been appointed the new man in charge and if his record at Norwich is anything to go by – where he won them promotion – then he certainly looks to have all the requirements to succeed.
One thing many fans were critical of during Grayson’s reign was his rather defensive style of play, that saw, at times, Grayson being more cautious by trying to protect the point, rather than pushing on for a winner.
This clearly doesn’t seem the case under Alex Neil. In his first competitive game in charge against Sheffield Wednesday during the opening weekend, his team were locked in a 0-0 stalemate, only for them to take the initiative by taking defensively minded midfielder Alan Browne off and replacing him with striker Jordan Hugill.
This substitution proved vital when Hugill won a penalty for North End, which Daniel Johnson successfully converted. The game finished 1-0 in favour of the hosts, Alex Neil’s attacking tactic the main reason why they got all three points.
Another major cause for optimism is how well the Lancashire club have bought this summer, sparking some much needed competition for places.
Bringing in Josh Harrop from Manchester United was a massive statement to their Championship rivals.
The Stockport born 21-year-old chose to reject a new and improved contract from the European giants and instead head to Preston North End to establish himself as a first team regular.
He has already made a great impression on the fans at his new club during a handful of appearances in preseason, the skills he showed in front of an expectant home crowd versus Burnley suggest he is the perfect player to push forward in new manager Alex Neil’s proactive style of play.
Another new signing who has made an impact on his new team is striker Sean Maguire who joined Preston alongside his former Cork City teammate Kevin O’Connor.
Both players made their debuts in the friendly against Burnley and Maguire was certainly on form, showing of a wide range of skills from backheels to an impressive turn of pace, and topped off with a superb solo run to score past opposition goalkeeper Nick Pope.
The opening weekend of Championship football showed fans that no team can ever be written off. That was the case at Deepdale where Preston hosted Sheffield Wednesday – incidentally another team many people have tipped for Promotion. But after that opening weekend win, Preston have struggled slightly, drawing 0-0 at Elland Road and losing 1-0 at Derby.
Though you only need to look at the performances North End have been putting it to see that those results have been misleading.
Fast forward a week and Deepdale was once again the scene where Preston played Reading, last year’s Play-Off Final losers.
The hosts proved their doubters wrong (certainly not for the first time) by beating ‘The Royals’ thanks to Jordan Hugill’s first half goal. The number nine’s first league goal was deserved reward for a performance that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a promotion clinching campaign.
Sean Maguire and Hugill are forming a fearsome partnership, with the latter pouncing on a header dropped down by the Irishman.
Further back, Ben Pearson had the Preston faithful biting their nails for most of the match.
Having just come back from his suspension after being red carded at Leeds, the yellow card picked up within the first ten minutes of the game did nothing to temper his combative style of play, ensuring a nervy afternoon for the 10,800 home fans.
Despite the uncertainty new management and squad additions can bring, Preston have, so far, impressed in the Championship.
This season’s race for promotion looks to be a competitive one, and fans should look no further than Preston to make an outside bid for the promised land of the Premier League.