Whilst the League Two play-off final may have been a tense affair, there was nothing tense about the way Preston went about dismantling Swindon Town at Wembley in May. Jermaine Beckford was on fire and the ever impressive Paul Huntington carried on his superb form. Preston are now back in the Championship and looking to push on this season.
Last Season: League One (3rd)
Manager: Simon Grayson
GKs: Jamie Jones, Steven James, Matthew Hudson
DFs: Tom Clarke, Bailey Wright, Calum Woods, Ben Davies, Paul Huntington, Nick Anderton, Josh Heaton
MFs: Chris Humphrey, Neil Kilkenny, Kyel Reid, John Welsh, Daniel Johnson, Josh Brownhill, Alan Browne
FWs: Jermaine Beckford, Paul Gallagher, Joe Garner, Andy Little, Jordan Hugill, Jack Ryan, Will Keane
In: Jermaine Beckford (Bolton Wanderers), Paul Gallagher (Leicester City), Will Keane (Manchester United – Loan)
Out: David Buchanan (Northampton Town), Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Chesterfield), Lee Holmes (Exeter City), Keith Keane (Cambridge United), Jack King (Scunthorpe United), Scott Wiseman (Scunthorpe United), Thorsten Stuckmann (Doncaster Rovers), Scott Laird (Scunthorpe United), Kevin Davies (Released)
First Six: Middlesbrough (H), MK Dons (A), Rotherham United (A), Ipswich Town (H), Hull City (A), Derby County (H)
Likely Lineup: (4-3-3) Jones – Clarke, Wright, Huntington, Woods – Kilkenny, Welsh, Johnson – Garner, Beckford, Gallagher
A word from…Youl Mawene
On choosing Preston over Wolves I’d been at Derby for four years and we’d had a bit of an average season but we felt things were starting to look up at least. But things changed around the club and I didn’t really fit in any more so I had to go and find myself a club.
I was a young lad at the time and I spoke with Wolves but they kept pushing the deal back and back which isn’t always a good sign! Then Brian O’Neil rang me, I’d known him from Derby and to be honest he’d been more like family to me than a friend. He asked me what was happening with Wolves and told me to go up to Preston as they needed a centre-back, after that it all happened quite quickly really.
I met Craig (Brown), he was such a gentleman and we connected really well and I just thought ‘yeah, you know what I fancy a bit of this’ and I decided to go on a Preston adventure and I never looked back!
On his centre-back partnerships It’s definitely very important to get that compatibility and build a relationship with whoever your partner is. Sometimes, the Championship can be even more physical and more of a challenge than the Premier League so it’s hugely important to have that.
Fortunately, in my first season at Preston I played more or less with Chris Lucketti and Chris was an absolute stone wall, when you stand in the tunnel and look across at your opponent but then see Lucketti on the shirt in front of you, you know you’ll be alright. He was massive and we were successful together, we probably should have gone up that year.
Then I was with Claude Davis and it became even easier, with big Claude I had almost nothing to do, he could do everything. That partnership was based more on speed and strength because Claude was a real beast. Then after a few injuries I was with Sean St Ledger but I really enjoyed that. My role had changed, I was the experienced one, you take a knock for your teammate and I tried to take on the role that Chris had done for me. But Sean had a really good understanding and she’s shown that at international level, to see him develop and to play with him was a pleasure.
On the new generation This year will be interesting, they’ve got some young defenders but they deserve to be there and they deserve a chance, they need to find that balance between attacking and defending, they’ve worked so hard.
Some of the players in that squad will be right at home in the Championship, until you get found out you just keep going and hope you don’t get found out too early! Billy Wright is there, he was a young lad when I was there, they’ve got Clarke and Hungtington, maybe they need a really experienced player back there but right now I just think they deserve a chance, go and prove yourself against better players.
They blew the play-off final away, they went to Wembley and that would have given them massive confidence, handling a big crowd and a big stadium, the game plan was spot on and Simon (Grayson) takes a lot of credit from that, it’s not the first time he’s done it.
On his own play-off disappointment You do have to ask yourself questions, you come back into training and you see your mates and you think we could be someone else. But you’ve got to come back, I felt really bad after the West Ham game at Cardiff but you just have to come back stronger.
If you have a club with a long-term project it’s not too bad, you came back in and you work harder, when you go to Wembley or Cardiff it’s an honour because you want to test yourself at the highest level. You see clubs who don’t go up and then a year or two later they do, it’s important to stick with those players and the staff if things go wrong.
On his Greek adventure It was a bit similar to most of the moves I made, you just have to be ready for everything and sometimes meetings just happen, something unexpected and the next minute you know it you’re there. In 2010, Preston had a few financial problems and a few things had changed so I needed to find a new club, I was meant to stay one more year but I realised it probably wasn’t going to happen.
But come July and bills keep coming through the door you have to think ‘hang on a minute’ and all sorts start going through your head, but through a friend of a friend I had a chance to go to Greece, the next thing I knew I’d signed. It was such an experience, different culture and lifestyle but football stayed the same, you want to go out there and play football at the end of the day.
The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: With the squad they have and the manager in control of them, it’s hard to see Preston going back down. Probably no miracles, but a consolidation season will be vital.
Key Player: Jermaine Beckford – Now signed on a permanent basis, Beckford needs to do better than he managed during his spell with Bolton. But Simon Grayson seems to bring the best out of him.
One to Watch: Daniel Johnson – The former Aston Villa was a breath of fresh air for Preston during 2015. 8 goals in 18 appearances saw the 22-year-old become as important as anyone during the club’s promotion push and he looks more than ready for the Championship.