Preston North End are back in the Championship after a four year absence, a momentous effort from manager Simon Grayson has evolved the group year upon year as they were promoted via the play-offs at Wembley. You can’t say the weren’t worth it, 79 goals and just 40 conceded, along a good FA Cup run.
Grayson will be aiming for a consolidation season before aiming higher, but some ambitious supporters may hope for a top 6 finish at the first time of asking, and who can blame them! Joe Garner will be back to full fitness after a large chunk of games on the turn of the year. His goals were crucial to Preston’s promotion push, and with his fitness and goal celebration back in good knick, he should be back amongst it from the first whistle.
The former Forest man will have to share the limelight with marquee signing Jermaine Beckford who joins the Lilywhites on a permanent deal after a successful loan spell. Beckford hit the heights while at Leeds under Grayson and recaptured that form with when he was reunited with his former employer. 20 goals went along way to him earning a full time contract, although the sensational hat-trick at Wembley sealed the deal.
The gaffer is probably sensible not to make wholesale changes to his first team with many of last seasons start names having already tasted the Championship in previous years. Ne of the few names through the Deepdale door is attacking midfielder Paul Gallagher, who also had a fruitful loan stint in Lancashire last term. The wily old fox has an abundance of second tier experience, but may find game time hard to come by with the dazzling Daniel Johnson and prodigious youngster Alan Browne working their way through the ranks.
Unlike many clubs who get promoted to the Championship, North End should have no problems at the back. Towering centre back commanded the 18 yard box all season and added 9 goals throughout a sensational season. Captain Tom Clarke played plenty of second tier football for Huddersfield Town, but I do worry about the ongoing goalkeeping situation. Giant German Thorsten Stuckman headed for the exit doors over the summer leaving the number one jersey to be contested by Jamie Jones and Sunderland Loanee Jordan Pickford. Jones had two loan stints away from the club after failing to nail down a place after arriving from Leyton Orient in the summer. Pickford was less than convincing for 7th placed Bradford City, so unless something has changed over the past few months, the man between the sticks in yet to be decided.
Goals should be no problem for Preston, although I do worry for the defenders. All the hard work put in in front of goal could be undone unless Jones and Pickford have put in the work in the last few months. Daniel Johnson is an exciting player that is bound to cause waves in the Championship along with the array of attacking talent available to Grayson. Mid table is an achievable ambition for this season, but expectant fans could see them aim higher.