Ferguson must improve unimpressive Preston
Spare a thought for Preston North End fans. To be propping up the rest of the Championship even at this early stage of the season is bad enough, but to see your closest rivals sitting pretty in a Champions League spot is sure to leave a sour taste. Blackpool may be lighting up the Premier League, but for their Lancashire cousins, life is anything but a beach.
The appointment of Darren Ferguson was supposed to herald a new era – and a crack at gaining promotion to the Premier League. Indeed, only five points separated Blackpool and Preston in a congested division at the time of Ferguson’s arrival.
With the playoffs only seven points away, a late push was not inconceivable under a man who had built a reputation for producing teams that played attractive, attacking football.
Life at London Road
It was a brand of football that served him well at Peterborough – Posh managed two consecutive promotions under Ferguson’s watch with free-flowing football that had the likes of Aaron McLean and George Boyd flourishing.
Things became more difficult in the Championship, however, and after taking Posh to the bottom of the table with eleven points from sixteen games, Ferguson was relieved of his duties.
Room for improvement
Now at Preston, it appears he has not learned his lesson. The Championship is an unforgiving league, and his team will have to improve quickly if they are to prosper. The stats make grim reading for Preston fans. Upon taking over the Lilywhites at the half way point of the 2009/2010 season – Ferguson’s Preston side sat bottom of the form table at the season’s end.
A late push for the playoffs had been talked about when Ferguson arrived. It never materialized, and the season ended with his side sealing survival with just three games to spare.
The club’s defensive record leaves cause for concern too. An average of two goals conceded per game during Ferguson’s 25 match tenure reflects a need to tighten up at the back.
Any further unwillingness to compromise his free-flowing style will leave Preston struggling defensively, as Saturday’s 4-0 defeat away to Swansea testifies. A 4-4-2 formation with two attacking wingers just won’t cut it away from home. Preston must be more pragmatic on their travels.
Moreover, his transfer policy has divided the Preston fanbase. Admittedly, cuts did need to be made after the club were hit with a winding up order, but departures of key players such as Youl Mawene and Ross Wallace left the squad needing a huge overhaul during the summer, something Ferguson was keen to initiate.
Not afraid to do things his way, a reliance on young and vibrant footballers has left the squad lacking experience and quality as things stand.
The way forward
All signs point to Ferguson given a bit of time yet, however. Fans will always appreciate their own young players being given a chance and, as Kevin Blackwell found to his cost, a manager is allowed more leeway when his team is playing an attractive brand of football.
Ferguson’s father’s links with chairman Trevor Hemmings will work in his favour. And with the season just two games old, there’s plenty of time for Ferguson to achieve an upturn in fortunes.
Portsmouth travel to Deepdale on Saturday – a match already being billed by many as a crucial game for both teams. In the long-term, though, a change of tactics and style may be required or Preston fans will be demanding changes of their own.
Written by: Shaun Murphy