Preston North End are on the lookout for only their third manager in eight years following the departure of Alex Neil today.
The 39-year-old departs following nine league losses since the turn of the year, leaving PNE in 16th position in the Championship and just nine points off the relegation zone.
Neil’s former assistant Frankie McAvoy will take temporary charge until the end of the season with Steve Thompson and player-coach Paul Gallagher assisting him.
It is believed that North End will look for a head coach rather than a new manager, as evidenced when calling McAvoy the ‘interim head coach’.
And it will likely not be someone with a mountain of experience – with a search into young coaches or League One managers far more likely, so you can rule out the likes of Chris Wilder, Mark Hughes and managers of that ilk.
Let’s look at three potential replacements to fill the vacant hot-seat at Deepdale.
Appleton has been linked to other jobs recently, including Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion who both look destined for the second tier next season, but he has historical and current ties to PNE.
He played for the Lilywhites between 1997 and 2001 before being sold to the Baggies in 2001, but his links are even closer than that as he revealed last year that his son is a North End fan.
That could be a reason to entice him back to Lancashire, but the only issue would be compensation – Appleton recently signed a new deal at Lincoln City until 2025 and that strengthens the League One club’s hand massively when it comes to someone else trying to purchase his services.
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With North End looking likely to appoint a head coach rather than a manager, Artell would fit the bill more than most due to how much he has developed Crewe players in his four years in charge of the Railwaymen.
Artell likes to play out from the back and he also coached Perry Ng and Harry Pickering into two of the most highly-sought after full-backs in the Football League.
The former Gibraltar international won’t have had much to work with in the way of resources at Gresty Road and whilst North End don’t have one of the biggest budgets in the second tier, they still have bits of money to spend
But it looks as though the next person in charge will not be in control of transfers, so Artell will just need his coaching skills and he looks to have a lot of that with Crewe just five points off the League One play-off places in their first season back.
Now this one would be controversial but it would be one that PNE fans might like.
Critchley had little playing experience but he graduated through Liverpool’s youth ranks as a head coach between 2013 and 2020, but made the jump into his first senior role last March by taking up the job at Blackpool – Preston’s biggest rivals.
He seems to be doing a great job there as well – the Seasiders are currently 10th in League One and just three points off the play-offs with games in hand, and he has the official role of ‘head coach’ at Bloomfield Road which is what the PNE board will be looking for.
Interestingly, Critchley is one of just 16 coaches in the world to possess UEFA’s ‘elite’ coaching badge, per the Liverpool Echo, so his credentials are there for all to see, but again it’s a case of whether compensation could be agreed and if Blackpool owner Simon Sadler would ever deal with North End.