Opposition Profile: Preston North End
A comprehensive view of Preston's situation so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Preston North End has managed to establish itself as a Championship side over the last 6 seasons frequently finishing in comfortable mid-table during this period of security as such the Lilywhites are no slouches in this league. They understand the ins-and-outs of the division better than most sides and so can pose to be a serious threat to any side on their day. Furthermore, Middlesbrough is within touching distance for Preston giving them incentive to win the upcoming match as it would allow them to leap-frog over Chris Wilder’s team into a more secure mid-table position.
Meanwhile, Preston North End is just the second outing for Chris Wilder's side meaning that the club may still be in the raptures of the turbulent times following the managerial change. This could lead to a less than stable run of performances for Middlesbrough. Alternatively, the arrival of Wilder means that every player has to re-establish their importance to the side in order to secure their short and long term future at the club. This should provide more than ample motivation for the squad as a whole to get their first win under Chris Wilder.
But what are Preston North End all about? How will they set up and who will cause Middlesbrough problems? This article will attempt to address these questions to put you in the best position to understand the opposition.
Owner: Trevor Hemmings CVO and Craig Hemmings
It would be inconsiderate to discuss Preston North End’s current predicament without first mentioning their current ownership situation.
In 2010, Preston North End were an insolvent company that was forced into compulsory liquidation by HM Revenue and Customs. A dark cloud formed as the future of the club was put in jeopardy. The club needed to find a new owner and quickly; in stepped Trevor Hemmings.
The billionaire stepped in to save the club through buying a controlling stake and he would continue to invest in the club throughout his 11 year tenure to the sound of £41 million pounds; ensuring it remained in afloat as he lead it through the destructive Covid period. Under his wing and through his financial support, the club would win promotion to the Championship in 2015 before establishing the club as a regular within the division.
Away from the club, Trevor Hemmings made his fortune on the property development industry before additionally playing a role in the rise of Pontin’s and Centre Parcs. He maintained an impressive portfolio of businesses that led to him being valued at £1.15 bln by the Sunday Times Rich List.
His interest in sports extended beyond football too, as he became a prominent name in horse racing with his horses winning multiple titles including 3 Grand Nationals. While those horses that retired from racing would find a home at Trevor Hemmings’ favoured residences.
Aside from his recreational and financial dealings, Trevor Hemmings also made a mark through his philanthropic endeavours. The billionaire claimed that he had put ‘eight to ten times’ more money into charities than he had spent on his horses. Charities such as Red Cross, RNLI, Samaritans and the Carers Trust benefitted from his kindness undoubtedly having a serious non-direct impact on numerous people who needed those services.
On the 11th October 2021, the Hemmings’ family confirmed the devastating news that Trevor Hemmings had passed away. There is no doubt that Trevor Hemmings had a massively positive impact on the world during his 86 years and he will be dearly lost. However, his spirit lives on through the football club, his son, Craig Hemmings, who was already Chairman at the club has taken over the running of the club and he announced that, “The philosophy of PNE under our ongoing stewardship remains as set out by my father, Trevor Hemmings.”
Our well-wishes go to the friends and family of Trevor Hemmings at this terrible time.
Manager: Frankie McAvoy
The current Preston manager did not follow the typical route into management; he never played football at a professional level and instead built up his knowledge primarily from coaching. He started his professional career in the football industry in the youth ranks of various Scottish sides building up to his role as academy director with Hamilton. However, it wasn’t until he met Alex Neil that he made his step into first team coaching becoming a component to Neil’s backroom staff at Hamilton, Norwich and Preston North End where he would eventually supersede him as manager.
The 54 year olds primary experience with youth was one of the primary reasons behind Preston’s decision to recruit him as manager, as highlighted in Craig Hemmings’ fan address following his succession, the clubs primary focus is in bringing talented youth players into the first team providing a localised identity. Frankie McAvoy appeared perfect for these purposes. However, despite impressing during his temporary control at the end of last season and starting the current one in relatively solid form, McAvoy’s position at the club is under threat.
Preston has consistently finished in mid-table over recent seasons, even if it has needed a drastic change, (i.e. McAvoy taking temporary charge) to continue this tradition. But the Lilywhites’ are currently in 16th place, on the verge of being considered as a bottom half side with the potential to be dragged into a relegation scrap, and this cannot be seen as anything but a step backwards rather than a step forwards by the club.
The most alarming issue with Preston’s current predicament is the sides inconsistency. McAvoy’s side has managed to win against notable opposition Bournemouth and the respectable but less notable Luton Town but those are the only wins in their last 6 games including a concerning 2-0 defeat to Blackpool and a 3-0 loss to Nottingham Forest. Furthermore, McAvoy admits that he is confused by the sides current form as he cannot find the root to their issues at the moment. This puts them in a position where improvements need to me made but the management isn’t entirely sure where.
Unfortunately, McAvoy has fallen into the typical pitfalls of a first-time manager (issues that can also be seen during Woodgate’s tenure in charge of Boro). He has struggled to establish a playing style under his management with the Scotsman open to frequently changing the tactics for the opponent rather than establishing his own clubs tactical outline. He follows the reductive plan of putting on an extra attacker when searching for a much needed goal even though it has corrupted his teams ability to create opportunities in the first place. This isn’t to say that he is a terrible manager. Most managers go through this period of adjustment as they move from coaching to the top job but these periods of change are usually concealed in the lower leagues where they aren’t exposed to such a big stage and the nature of the league means that most these issues are forgiven through its physicality.
Tension around the club is reaching a serious high as the fans frustrations about their current predicament grows. This culminated in booing during their defeat to Cardiff City which further led to speculation that McAvoy signalled distastefully towards the fans.
The fans concerns are mirrored in the boardroom too with the clubs hierarchy growing increasingly concerned about the clubs poor run of form. The current situation is on a precipice that has landed on Prestons fixture with Middlesbrough. It is not unreasonable to expect news of McAvoy’s sacking to follow the game should it end in defeat.
One To Watch: Benjamin Whiteman
Ben Whiteman has become one of the shining lights in an otherwise disappointing season. The central midfielder has taken the step up from League One in his stride following his move in January last season and he has now established himself as the one to watch within the Preston North End side.
The 25 year old Englishman started his career at Sheffield United but he struggled to find his feet at Wilder’s former club and so he only established himself following his temporary and, then permanent, move to Doncaster Rovers. During his time with Rovers he would establish himself as one of, if not the, best midfielder in League One and his loss in January was hard felt by their supporters as they expressed their fair wells.
He arrived at Preston with a strong reputation in League One but he still remained a relative unknown in the Championship, with the jump between the two divisions often considered one of the hardest challenges in English football, there were concerns that he presented a relatively expensive risk. However, almost a year on it is clear that it was £1.5m well spent.
Whiteman is described by Football Manager as a roaming playmaker, giving him the freedom to move around the pitch to create opportunities throughout the thirds of the pitch. However, from other reports it appears that Whiteman typically plays in the form of a deep-lying playmaker. His best ability comes in his progressive passes preventing possession from stagnating in midfield and getting the ball to the wingbacks and attacking players in progressive areas. He is also good in close control and represents a relatively press-resistant figure in the heart of the midfield allowing him to play as the lynchpin of the side if he is assigned so by McAvoy. Finally, he frequently makes late runs into the oppositions’ half often finding time and space to manipulate the ball as and how he wants, this could, if an opening arises result in him taking a shot at goal or progressing the ball into dangerous areas. This is a less significant feature of his playing style though with the player sharing similarities in playing style to Swansea’s Matt Grimes.
Whiteman’s influence goes further than on the ball and even on the pitch though as he is a commanding presence in the centre of midfield, keeping his teammates in order and ensuring that the managers desires are replicated on the pitch. Meanwhile, he is an imposing figure and one that isn’t shy of the more physical side of the game meaning that he can more than stand his own in defensive situations.
Hot Prospect: Sepp van den Berg
A highly regarded youngster at parent club Liverpool, Sepp van den Berg joined Preston in February in search for first team experience. He was quickly drafted into the team and played an integral role as the club secured their future in the Championship. However, he did not get these minutes in his natural position. Alongside having to adjust to a new club, Sepp van den Berg learned the nuances of a new position, right wing-back, and he excelled in the role. Preston were so impressed by his performances that they returned to Liverpool to request an extension to his stay leading him into this season.
Berg has been seen as a talented youngster with high potential for some time, leading Liverpool to pay £1.7m to bring him to Anfield from Zwolle and as such is regarded by the club hierarchy as one for the future. So it came as little surprise when he excelled at Preston, establishing his place in the first team and producing numerous impressive performances down the flank.
While he has played wingback at times this season, Berg has re-occupied his role in the heart of the defence, playing as a wide right centre back, utilising his experiences on the flank to augment his strengths at the heart of the defence. He is a very good reader of the game and can track wingers as good as any full back but he also has an ability in the air which is vital in the championship.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-0 Preston
Preston is currently in the midst of a crisis. The fans have turned against their manager and the ownership are currently reviewing their stance on his future at the club. If Middlesbrough manage to get the first goal then these fans could turn against their manager making any sort of comeback increasingly unlikely. Despite the best efforts of Ben Whiteman and Sepp van den Berg, Middlesbrough should be favourites to win this game.