Ending the season with two defeats neatly sums it up. Reading playing only for their pride after a disastrous first half to their season put 4 past Preston to win 4-1. Everyone is speaking about a big clear out of playing staff at Preston but that also means a big bring in. Finding new players isn't easy. The days when PNE picked up the likes of Macken, Nugent, Mears for a song seem to have passed.
One win a month isn't going to get them far next year. To keep his job Darren needs to keep the club in the top half next season and probably the next 10 games will be key. Just under half of possible points should be good enough. The home draws were the killer this year, they need to become wins and less away defeats.
Next season the Championship will see Portsmouth, Burnley and probably Hull, along with Norwich, probably Leeds and one of 3 other contenders. None of those, except the 3 other contenders perhaps, look like clubs who will languish in the lower regions. Also Crystal Palace are in a false position due to a points deduction. So the league isn't going to get easier.
Ian Holloway has pulled it off at Blackpool getting a play-off place. When Simon Grayson was poached by Leeds it looked like the end but it turned into a winner. If they don't get promoted, with Leeds looking like coming back they'll be seeking new players posing a risk to most smaller clubs with good players. Not to mention that Ian Holloway will be under scrutiny perhaps by Premier League clubs.
Alan Irvine, ex-PNE manager, took Sheffield Wednesday down to League One. Most people sympathise but it could be that Derek Shaw can feel more comfortable with his decision.
The National Football Museum closed its Deepdale doors on the 30th April. The trustees said it could still re-open as a secondary museum but in reality they're only hedging their bets. Might be a victim of the post election cuts and become a museum with no home. Surprising Manchester can pay millions to take a museum which isn't going to make any money when they're going to be cutting services and jobs.
March: beat Notts Forest which was good but with ominous signs. From being 3-0 down Forest pulled back 2 goals to end 3-2. Little were we to know that pulling 2 goals back would become a habit with PNE being 2-0 ahead against Sheff W and QPR and then conceding 2 to drop 4 points. Not to mention away at Middlesbrough where they played well and gave away 2 goals. It wouldn't have been difficult to get 5 more points in March and still have an outside chance of the play-offs.
Looking forward PNE have what looks like a fairly easy run in to the end of the season and the 7 points needed should be achieved. On the other hand struggling teams put up a good fight and there are no easy games. So what can be expected?
The fans are expecting changes in the close season and a clear out. Quite different from seasons gone when North End would worry that someone would poach some of their players. It's now more who will want them. Finding replacements is another major question.
February ended well after a roller coaster ride. Conceding early goals, poor defending of set pieces and 15 goals against. Nolan loaned to Sheff Wed. John Parkin seems to be looking good. I noticed on TV against Chelsea he did some neat touches for a man of his size. Coutts and Williams in.
7 points out of 21 in Feb is pretty poor. Still not wholly out of the running for a play-off place but the lower region is threateningly close.
A lot of games in March brings:
v Notts Forest
v Sheff Wed
West Brom v
The minimum expectation would be wins against Sheff Wed and QPR. Draws with Plymouth and Doncaster. 8 points. Just dream a little and think potential for 21 points that would put them probably about 6th or 7th.
Crystal Palace v
Reading v in May.
Should get at least 8 points. Making 58 points so it's still save-able even with poor performance.
Still optimistic to improve, there are signs that corner is being turned.
I'm not yet blaming Darren Ferguson as he's inherited most of the players and the loss of confidence. Sheffield Wednesday are now going through a sticky patch under Alan Irvine.
February ended with other bad football news. The worst was a double leg fracture for one of Arsenals young stars, Aaron Ramsey of Wales. Portsmouth went into administration which has knocked them 9 points, bad news for the fans but in reality Portsmouth aren't a big club, so they've had a good run. A bit of turmoil on the England front for the World Cup with John Terry losing the captaincy, Wayne Bridge dropping out of contention, Owen Hargreaves not recovering from injury, Rio Ferdinand injured, Ashley Cole injured. Not to mention that Wayne Rooney is playing so well there is a risk he'll burn out.
Darren Ferguson took over in mid-January and his tally is 2 wins out of 4, not a bad start. Defeat by Chelsea in the cup was expected. Beating Peterborough, DF's old club, and Ipswich, who have lately improved a bit, has been a fairly easy introduction.
Danny Welbech has been loaned from Manchester United and scored a classy chipped goal yesterday. Mellor has been playing on the right wing which is a change for him. Sean St Ledger is being chased by Celtic but seems happy at Deepdale and let's hope he stays. Overall view from the forums is that PNE have played a bit better but it doesn't seem they're fully on song. Against Chelsea on TV they looked cool at playing out of defence but a bit toothless up front and slow in the middle.
Around about Blackpool are maintaining a reasonable position. Burnley and Bolton are struggling, while Blackburn and Wigan are just out of the morass. Wigan looked impressive on TV the other day and they seemed to deserve better. Accrington are seeking a play-off place and Morecambe are failry comfortable. Fleetwood are top and Southport second in the Northern Premier League.
Crystal Palace dropped 10 points and are now well down the league by going into administration. Spoils the game really and bad for the fans. To lose 10 points and sell off your best players is a kick when you're down. On the other hand administration might be too easy in some cases if there was no points penalty.
In February there are 7 championship matches for PNE. When you're low in the table most games don't look easy but there is a good range of games that should sort out the wheat from the chaff. A good February could see PNE challenging for the play-offs.
It was announced by Derek Shaw the chairman of PNE that Alan Irvine was sacked due to the run of bad results and fear that a relegation battle might ensue.
Much hysteria on the Evening Post website with the vast majority of writers supporting the manager and it being fuelled by a series of articles about the why's and potential replacements etc.
No doubt Alan was a popular manager who had suffered a bad run. However timing is important with the transfer window opening and options for this season still being open with a play-off place still in reach.
Craig Brown, David Moyes, Billy Davies, Alan Simpson, Alan Irvine in the last 5 years. Two of these leaving and 3 being asked to leave. This one seems to be the most controversial as the fans have supported the previous decisions.
Anyway I've written more about this on the MIP blog. In summary the club need to be supported in the decision as it was a tough one. Personally it gives me a sinking feeling as Alan seems such a decent bloke and not long ago he decided to stay after a tempting offer by WBA.
Nearly got a point at Sheffield in their last game of the year. The Sheffield goal had some controversy from a Preston perspective anyway and with a stand-in referee. Sean St Ledger returned freshly back from his loan at Middlesbrough. With the exception of the game at Nottingham the scores weren't that bad but the result of 4 points from 5 games is no-where near good enough. Only scoring in 1 game out of the 5 seems to be the main problem as they generally only concede 1 goal.
Are the forwards in a bad spell or have defences got their measure. Is it that Alan Irvine isn't using astute tactics and is playing a predictable game.
With Lonergan, St Ledger and Wallace in the team things should start to look better. There are good things said about the loan player Tonge as well.
The January transfer window is about to open, doesn't seem like there will be any money to spend especially with St Ledger returning. In the current position any sales of decent players sounds like a statement that relegation is preferable to losing money.
I think the club will stay with Alan Irvine and that he'll stop the rot if there are no sales. Might end up about 9th.
Looking at other clubs in the Championship; Blackpool are doing quite well although they have faltered a bit except for the away win at Derby. Newcastle and West Brom have been consistent and now Notts F are the surging club. At the bottom Ipswich are pulling themselves up while Plymouth and Peterborough seem to be struggling. Overall the league continues to be inconsistent with a couple of straight wins taking clubs up a number of places.
In League 1 Stockport are doing so badly they look out. Not many years ago they had a good run.
In League 2 Rochdale are top. While Bury, Accrington and Morecambe are comfortable in the top half. Good to see the latter two clubs doing well.
In the Blue Square League Chester are still on minus 3 points and have only gained 25pts which would be near the bottom. Southport and Fleetwood are the top 2 in the Blue Square League North which is a good achievement. Fleetwood are hoping to emulate Morecambe with their new ground.
1 out of 9 points in November, drawing 1-1 at Blackpool today. A goal from a mid-fielders free-kick means the forwards havn't scored this month. The defence isn't solid either. All this started the game after the transfer of St Ledger. Middlesbrough have slid since he arrived although it isn't his fault they say.
Whether this is a period of adaptation or if one player made so much difference time will tell. The papers claim Blackpool could have scored a hatful, against Newcastle it appeared PNE held their own although expectations weren't high. In summary Alan Irvine needs to get his thinking cap on and sort things out. 4 more points would see them 5th, but the goal difference is poor and the gap from the top is increasing and we might be talking about relegation in my next monthly report.
That Alan Irvine is having a more difficult time is another learning period for him and maybe it keeps him at Deepdale as his name is somewhere on the list of candidates for Scotland.
There's a good article on the BBC sport website about Alan Unsworth joining the training staff for younger players, and a number of decent letters beneath it. Most of the letters are of a depressed nature though which seems to be North Enders lot. When I used to go on I'd never criticise except late in the match of someone did something that brought out the frustration.
Looks like the National Football Museum will go to central Manchester. All those ladies with their shopping bags will be pouring in.
November had some interesting football events. Thierry Henry handling the ball to get France in the World Cup Finals. If it had been a lesser game it might be just an irritant but at the highest level it leaves a sick feeling. I've never liked Chelsea but they have been red hot this month and Drogba scored a great goal at Arsenal. Man U are looking less impressive. Ryan Giggs is being praised for his performance at the age of 35 and he has often been the difference between a winning and a not scoring team. I rate him very highly but some people are getting carried away with the praise as he's not in the very highest; like Best and Ronaldo. Liverpool are going through a torrid spell and their performance seems to depend on Steve G being around although Torres is possibly the best striker in the world, in my opinion, but he's often injured as well. Man C are not performing as advertised while Burnley continue to keep out of the sinking sand. Bolton are in it though. Seasons still a long way to go.
6 out of 15 points in October, slipped down the table yet are only 3 points and 9 goals away from being 2nd.
Drew at home against highly rated WBA and Middlesbrough which aren't bad results. Won away at Sheff W. A disappointing result losing 4-0 at QPR. Finally drawing 1-1 at Deepdale with Crystal Palace could be said to be disappointing, 5 games without winning at Deepdale.
Leicester are suddenly 2nd, Bristol C, Cardiff and Blackpool are now above PNE, all of who are teams that have to prove their consistency. Middlesbrough are in a poor spell and Notts Forest with Billy Davies are doing better.
Only 3 games in November including Newcastle and Blackpool, both on Monday evening. I bet those Geordies want a trip to Blackpool and will be disappointed it's not a weekend.
Liverpool are having a bad time at the moment and Chelsea are in a good spell trouncing two Lancashire clubs after Wigan beat them a couple of weeks ago.
Accrington are middle of league 2 while Morecambe are just keeping their head out of the water.
Southport are top and Fleetwood 7th in the Conference North.
Fairly impressive month. Like last year you don't need to keep winning to maintain a position. PNE are 2 pts behind WBA, 5pts behind Newcastle and 1 pt ahead of Middlesbrough. It's pretty tight below in the league and theoretically a defeat on Saturday on Sky at Deepdale against WBA could put PNE down to 10th.
The last game of the month against Reading was a disappointment as Reading aren't doing very well yet they beat PNE 2-1 at Deepdale which cancelled out the away win at Leicester.
Scunthorpe ended the unbeaten run in mid-month.
A 1-5 drubbing in the League Cup by Tottenham at Deepdale sort of put some perspective on it. Mainly about the ability to take your chances.
Sean St Ledger moved on a loan to Middlesbrough in the month with a good fee expected in January. Since he arrived Middlesbrough havn't done very well although he seems to have settled in and it might be one of those temporary dips.
Gates continue in the 12,000 range with 16,000 on the Tottenham game.
Surprise of the season to date is Ipswich at the bottom, their Chairman says there is no pressure on Roy Keane, the manager. Blackpool are doing fairly well.
In the Premier league Burnley have 9pts, same as Everton and Wigan, which is more than most would have thought although theyv'e struggled lately. Although Everton are moving up and Burnley down.
Burnley helped neighbours Accrington who are in financial difficulty by holding a friendly on their behalf. Great PR for Burnley and well done to them.
Michael Owen limped off Man U's European game on Tuesday which is a shame as great English players are thin on the ground.
Not a bad first month. Unbeaten in the league and league cup. Hard to believe but they could have done better. Games against Barnsley, Doncaster, Peterborough and Ipswich (at present) might be said to be not the most difficult but early in the season you never know. Then beating Morecambe and Leicester in the League Cup and now facing Tottenham.
A couple of injuries, worst to Nicholson, and a sending off against Ipswich. So now a loan player, Collins, is in from Wolves (Sept 1st).
Weather bright and warm. This season PNE have been in the Championship 10 years which is longer than any club currently in this league. PNE v Bristol City.
Looked at last years bookies odds on the Championship and PNE were well down just avoiding relegation. Two of the promoted teams weren't in the forecast top 6. So what credence have this years odds.
PNE 11th at 8/1. Better expectation this year.
Newcastle favourites, then WBA, Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Sheff U, QPR.
Bottom are Scunthorpe, Barnsley, Plymouth, Blackpool, Doncaster, Sheff W. The bookies don't like Yorkshire.
When you look at the list it isn't easy to argue. Although QPR keep being forecast for something and maybe one day they will. Ipswich now have Roy Keane and I'd like him to do well but it isn't a given. North Ends placing looks fairly realistic, they don't need to improve or worsen much to be in a completely different zone.
Doesn't sound a bad exchange. Hope McKenna doesn't do an Alexander and get promoted with another club.
Speculation was that Alan would go to WBA, it was a done deal, agreed last week etc. Derek Shaw said it would be a disaster if he went. So Alan knew that the Chairman wants him to stay and if he went it would be subject to a strong compensation claim.
His contract gives him permission to speak if a level of compensation is to be met so his agent spoke to WBA and Alan announced today he's staying at PNE. So that's good news.
We don't know why and WBA were quick to announce another choice. Several news media all said initially 'Irvine pipped' but then removed that so it looks like they had numbers 1 and 2 lined up. Their choice of Di Matteo seems a bit risky but nothing ventured nothing gained.
Preston North End v Bristol City. Saturday 8th August,3pm.
Based on last seasons fixtures a keen game against a team that did well.
PNE v Morecambe (the Shrimps) on August 11th, Tuesday. Nice little game. Morecambe are doing better than I'd have expected. I'd normally wish them well.