Olivia Simpson reviews a successful season back in the second for Preston North End:
Speaking in April the Lilywhites manager was hoping to secure a 11th place finish over the final four games of the Championship season.
That’s exactly what Simon Grayson’s men achieved in their first season back in the second tier of English football.
Back in May of last year, Preston North End clinched promotion to the Championship by beating Swindon Town 4-0 at Wembley. Jermaine Beckford was the undoubted star, scoring a hatrick against the Robins. The 31 was a menace in Preston’s three-man attack alongside Paul Gallagher and Joe Garner.
But the same can’t be said for the 15/16 season with Preston struggling for goals. Beckford picked up an injury in preseason and recovered sufficiently to return to action in August, he came on as substitute in the home games against Ipswich and Watford but the injury flared-up ahead of the visit to Hull on August 29. The injury kept him out for a seven months, he made his next appearance coming off the bench in the 1-1 home draw against QPR on March 19th.
The absence was clearly felt by the Lilywhites, Manchester United’s Will Keane was brought in to partner Joe Garner upfront. After 22 appearances and only 2 goals for the Championship club, Louis Van Gaal prematurely recalled Keane to boost the Red Devil’s attacking options.
Fan favorite Joe Garner struggled making the move up from League One, scoring 6 goals in 44 appearances across all competitions this term. Previously netting 27 goals in 43 games during Preston’s promotion winning campaign.
One player that certainly caused a stir in and around Deepdale was the on loan goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland. Pickford kept 13 clean sheets in 27 appearances for Preston, while also establishing himself as first- choice England under 21 keeper. Preston hearts were broken when the Black Cat’s boss Sam Allardyce recalled Pickford from his loan spell, deciding that he is good enough to compete with Vito Mannone, the man currently between the sticks at the North East club.
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard was then brought in to fill the space left by Pickford. The Denmark international impressed, notably pulling off a great save from Tjaronn Chery keeping Preston in the game against QPR in March
In February spirits were high among those in the Preston camp, being 5 points of the play offs was a great achievement for a newly promoted side. The 2-1 defeat at Cardiff was the only loss that month, we headed into March determined to keep up the good form.
However, with only win in March coming against Lancashire rivals Bolton, it was the start of an inconsistent end to Preston’s first season back in the Championship. A tough fixture list was ahead in April, the first of those was an away day at Blackburn Rovers, where the Lilywhites ended a 37 year wait to defeat Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, as they came from behind to win 2-1 in front of 7,000 travelling fans. Jordan Hugill made it back to back derby goals, volleying the ball into the top left corner of the net. A loss against Fulham epitomized the season, one where we beat the teams at the top of the table, but struggle against those at the bottom. The last away game of the season was a memorable one, the yellows put in an incredible performance against Reading at the Madejski Stadium, which was topped off by Jermaine Beckford scoring his 2nd goal of the campaign after coming back from injury.
Jordan Hugill rescued a point for the Lilywhites in injury time against Leeds to draw the 2015/16 to a close at Deepdale.
In their first season back in the Championship Preston North End have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with. The Lilywhites have the budget of a bottom three side, finishing 11th after being newly promoted is a great achievement for them and Simon Grayson. Surely they’re a team to look out for ahead of the 16/17 campaign?
Follow Olivia on Twitter – @KurtZooming