It’d be understandable for an outsider to look at the League 1 table and label Preston’s start to the 2013/2014 campaign as ‘boring’. Four draws from the opening four league games have left Simon Grayson’s side in 12th place, 8 points adrift of the automatic promotion places – where Preston really want to be in May.
Despite drawing the first four league games, North End’s steady start to the season has been spiced up with two fierce Lancashire derbies. After a heated 1-0 victory over arch rivals Blackpool, Preston were drawn to face Burnley at Turf Moor in the second round. However, Burnley were one Championship outfit too many for Preston and the Lilywhites’ League Cup run was over for another year.
The Burnley defeat resulted in a few raised eyebrows from North End fans, despite the opposition playing in a higher tier. With the season promising so much, one win in six is a cause for concern. The squad seems to be lacking the creativity needed to feed the experienced frontline of Iain Hume, Stuart Beavon, Joe Garner and former England international Kevin Davies. With seven goals scored after six games, you’d be forgiven to think there’s not exactly crisis status at Deepdale, but with six of those goals being scored across two games, the need for consistency in the goals department is apparent.
As so often is the case with Football League clubs these days, the Financial Fair Play rulings restrict what PNE can do to solve the issue. I’m sure that, if he could, Simon Grayson would be looking to bring in a new creative midfielder to play alongside one of John Welsh or Keith Keane, who are both aggressive, ball-winning central midfielders. However, it seems that unless another wage is removed from the bill, it will be impossible for him to do so.
If you can’t sign anyone, then surely you should look in house to fix it? Nicky Wroe was Preston’s leading goalscorer last year with 11 goals from central midfield, but he has been out of favour thus far under Simon Grayson. It’s a difficult balancing act that Grayson has to get right – does he sacrifice one of his defensive midfielders for more creativity, knowing that the defence will be more exposed but they will pose more of a threat going forward? These are the decisions that he’s paid for, though, and it’s one that will have to be made sooner rather than later.
Personally, I’d look to the left back to slot to try and make a difference. David Buchanan has done a fine job since Scott Laird broke his leg last November against Notts County, but with Laird returning to full fitness, I think it’s time the attacking prowess of the former Stevenage man was fully utilised. He’s at his best making overlapping runs down the left, whipping in delightful deliveries from set pieces, getting in amongst the goals and creating chances for his teammates, something Preston have been lacking in the first few games of the season.
At the start of this piece, I said North End will be aiming to gain automatic promotion, and I still believe they should. With a few tweaks to the system they employ and a new signing (if possible), this season could still yet to turn out to be one to remember for the Lilywhites.