A miserable season for Preston but is the future looking brighter under Westley?
Being just sixteen years old, the whole time that I have been watching North End we have been competing at the top end of the Championship. After commentating on the home game against Cardiff last April which confirmed our relegation, it meant that I needed to discover a bit more about League One football.
After a thoroughly wretched pre-season, resulting in the sale of key players and the lack of ambition towards replacing these players, within eleven minutes of our League One baptism as we were one down at home to the fairly mediocre Colchester United side.
As I’m sure the rest of the home section at Deepdale thought at that moment I began to think here we go again. We went on to lose the game 4-2 and I left Deepdale feeling thoroughly depressed.
However, following an unlucky draw away at Scunthorpe, we got our season kick-started with a victory away at newly-promoted Chesterfield courtesy of goals from Clarke Carlisle and Barry Nicholson. As mentioned this truly did launch our season, with the next seven games resulting in victory which saw us soar up the league table into the dizzy heights of second position.
Our next opposition were Leyton Orient, who at the time sat bottom of the league without a win, but they managed to defeat us comfortably despite Paul Coutts opening the scoring after just two minutes. This was in effect the beginning of the end to our season. Following three straight defeats after the Orient game, it took nine attempts to bring maximum points back to Deepdale with Neil Mellor scoring the only goal in an away win at Hartlepool’s Victoria Ground.
Frustration had thoroughly set itself firmly back into Deepdale and several fans were calling for the head of manager Phil Brown following his bamboozling team selections and a series of poor results. However, to give Brown some credit we were missing key players Iain Hume and Neil Mellor who had finally seemed to form a key partnership which gave our frontline a real cutting edge and which had added a few goals in our winning run at the start of the season.
Brown’s win at Hartlepool turned out to be his last as he was relieved of his duties following the arrival of new chairman Peter Ridsdale and a dour 0-0 draw at home to Stevenage in which Ridsdale stated that it was the worst match that he had ever seen in his twenty years in football. The duties were handed to the duo managerial team of first team coach David Unsworth and veteran central midfielder Graham Alexander on a temporary basis and their first task was a trip to promotion chasing MK Dons in front of the sky cameras.
A gutsy performance resulting in a one-nil away victory thanks to a seventh minute Paul Parry header gave some reason for optimism going into the boxing day clash with ‘rivals’ Carlisle. Unsworth and Alexander gave it their best shot in trying to secure the position on a permanent basis by picking up eight points from their five games experiencing just one defeat and bringing a home victory to Deepdale for the first time since September.
However, Peter Ridsdale managed to lure highly successful Stevenage manager Graham Westley in to replace Phil Brown on a permanent basis.
Known for his emphasis on fitness and long hours on the training ground, Westley took no time in enforcing his beliefs on the squad and soon brought in his own players in the forms of Accrington skipper Andy Procter,Rotherham’s third-choice striker Chris Holroyd and central defender Aaron Brown fresh from his release by League Two Aldershot Town.
After a busy transfer market in which six players arrived and five were shown the door while several others were frozen out as they rebelled against Westley’s philosophy, the hard work started at home against Leyton Orient, the team who had begun the rot.
A fairly inept performance resulted in a 2-0 Orient win. I for one welcomed the arrival of Mr. Westley and still to this day believe that he is the right man for the job but the first impressions were fairly bleak. Westley did manage to defeat Hartlepool thanks to a brilliant solo goal from home-grown talent Danny Mayor, which gave him his first win as manager and gave the fans optimism that things were starting to gel with his own newly assembled squad and regime.
But it took six attempts to taste maximum points with an away victory at Exeter and despite it being a very early stage into his tenure in charge choruses of boo’s rang around Deepdale on a consistent basis following three consecutive goal less draws at home against basement teams; Chesterfield, Walsall and Scunthorpe and a terrible 3-1 home defeat to Brentford in which for me was the worst performance I had witnessed in my time as a Preston supporter.
The most controversial incident of the season came the following Saturday in which we suffered a 2-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in front of the T.V cameras. A dugout rumour passed from one to another by the Wednesday coaching staff that our players had passed to team information to the Sheffield Wednesday team really caused a rift in the camp with PFA representatives being involved and internal discipline being carried out by Peter Ridsdale on the alleged traitors.
Despite the negatives, faultless performances against MK Dons, Stevenage and Huddersfield delivered five points from nine. To this day the jury still remains out for Westley and with safety for next season being all but secured, all eyes are thoroughly focused on next seasons alleged promotion push and a severe squad turnover in the summer.
In what so far has been a thoroughly bleak and gloomy season, there have been a number of positives in particular the performances of Paul Parry and German keeper Thorsten Stuckmann who will have to battle fiercely for the player of the year.
Another positive for me has been the emergence of young players through the academy in Danny Mayor and Bailey Wright in particular with Graham Westley getting the best out of them. My assessment on League One is that consistency is the key to success which all the top five teams have shown all season through and there is no reason that we cannot replicate that next season. In Mr. Westley I place my trust.
By Preston North fan Jacob Smalley