After two calendar years of last-minute cramming and form-checking, this ditty on the Boxing Day derby between Preston and Carlisle will be our last Thursday Preview. With a new platform less than two weeks away, we’ve decided to refocus our efforts, leaving the Monday Profile as the sole weekly column on TTU.
But what a bang to go out on. It’s been all-change at Deepdale over the past few weeks, making North End a genuinely interesting club to shine a light on.
A consideration of their cursorily-documented financial plight and its potential impact is planned in the New Year, but there’s no little subject for discussion in the interim.
Whereas a few weeks ago gloom and doom abounded upon Phil Brown’s harsh sacking, chairman Maurice Lindsay’s resignation and owner Trevor Hemmings’ shocking announcement that he’s pumping £750k into the club each month just to keep it afloat, one quick look at the official PNE website earlier today left me feeling very related to in a public way.
In amongst the author’s liberal use of exclamation, caretaker managers Graham Alexander and David Unsworth speak of a particular ‘spirit, togetherness and confidence’ and we are informed that the ‘city is buzzing’ as North End approach their first Carlisle encounter in years. You can tell that Peter Ridsdale’s calling the shots.
Yet, following that special kind of spirited, against-all-odds single goal away victory that Alexander and Unsworth achieved in their opening tour date at Franchise last week, North End should have every reason to feel confident for the time being, at least until the January Sales.
Combined with supporters’ favourite Paul Coutts installation as team captain; Alan Kelly’s return to the club as a goalkeeper coach and popular local striker Jamie Proctor vying for position in attack, a remarkably fresh wave of positivity could make for a launching pad back into this season’s play-off portrait.
To an extent, that depends on how life progresses under fledglings Alexander and Unsworth, not to mention on the quality of the players who remain beyond the transfer window. However, one might argue that the club could in fact do with a Norwich-esque clear-out and that they’d be leaner and meaner for moving on their household vets if anyone’s willing to take on the wages of Ian Ashbee, Clarke Carlisle, Neil Mellor or Iain Hume.
But, as supporter Nick Fish captures in his half-term report for the Guardian, it’s just too early to tell how North End will fare and one gets the sense that this season could still go either way. Preston’s festive double-header against Carlisle and Sheffield Wednesday should play a significant part in deciding which division the Lilywhites will find themselves in next term.
The Cumbrians, who currently lie three points ahead of North End, will be accompanied by a good 4,000 fans. Given their last home gate was 4,114, that tells a story about what this game means.
Topping League One in the fewest points lost from winning positions and the entire Football League in points gained from losing positions, this year’s crop is a half-decent one. In a season where one senses an outsider such as Brentford or Stevenage could squeeze into the top 6, supporters will hope that the records remain intact and that Greg Abbot’s side enjoy a happier second half of the season than last term when his charges struggled to catch up after a decimated festive programme.
Their ‘All Tartan’ front three of Lee Miller, Rory Loy and JP McGovern have been influential, but my instinct is that Alexander and Unsworth have got the bit. Ridsdale’s keeping tight-lipped about Phil Brown’s permanent successor, but my money’s on a momentum-inducing next few games at Deepdale and a new contract winging its way to the rookies. 2-0 Preston.