Blood, sweat and tears but no rewards for Preston

Progress is slow but steady at Deepdale at the moment and this was epitomised with a 0-0 draw at home to struggling, but in form, Walsall.

A third clean sheet in six games and just 6 goals conceded in this time indicates a defensive improvement since Westley was appointed but Preston have only scored three times in the same period but I would rather concede less and grind out results than score more and concede more like we were doing earlier on in the season.

The game itself was one that didn’t lack in effort (from both sides) but lacked in cutting edge, in the first half the only notable event was the unfortunate injury to Adam Barton. This seems to have ruled him out for the rest of the season at least and at this moment in time it is unknown how bad the injury actually is. Barton had a successful operation on Monday morning and it’s now a case of rehabilitation for the next few months.

The rest of the game was pretty even but Walsall had the better chances and Florent Cuvelier should have scored when he was one on one with Stuckmann but somehow managed to fire wide. Preston had chances of their own and captain Andy Procter was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet at least once.

Westley said after the game that defensively we took a step back after the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United despite the fact that we kept a clean sheet on Saturday, I do not disagree with this as overall the defence was solid enough, but a more potent strikeforce would have found the net and once again Thorsten Stuckmann was in magnificent form to show why he is arguably not only signing of the season but player of the season. He did well to keep the score at 0-0 and in doing so claimed his 7th clean sheet in under 20 games which is a very credible achievement given all the change that has happened in the defence over the last couple of months or so since he joined in November.

Saturday’s game also summed up February as a whole, dogged and determined but still a long way from the finished article. While some Preston fans may disagree, progress has been made this month after four points from an available nine against teams in reasonable form. This at least shows that we won’t be sucked into a relegation battle but what it does confirms that the Play-offs are virtually impossible for us to reach. However a season of mid table mediocrity is the perfect place for Westley to rebuild and for him to assess who is and isn’t worth keeping for next season. The campaign goes into the final few months starting with a nine game March and this will be a very good indicator of where Preston are likely to finish in May.

By Preston North End blogger Sean Marshall. You can read more of his work on his personal blog.