With less than two weeks to go before their Championship season kicks off at Deepdale against Hull City, the mood surrounding many Preston North End fans right now is one of apathy.
Supporters have not stepped foot inside the stadium since 10-man Queens Park Rangers defeated them 3-1 in March 2020 – Ebere Eze stealing the show months before his big-money move to Crystal Palace – and a year later the club sacked a manager for the first time in eight years when Alex Neil departed.
His assistant Frankie McAvoy took over for the remaining eight games of the 2020-21 season, and having only lost once in that period the permanent head coach role was handed to the Scot, with the hope that he can provide some continuity in the upcoming season.
From what we’ve seen in pre-season though, the same old issues have arisen and the squad hardly looks any different to how it did at the end of the previous campaign.
Since January 2018, North End have lacked a regular goalscorer through the middle of the park – that is when they sold Jordan Hugill to West Ham for a club-record fee, and the following season Callum Robinson provided the goals from out wide but he was also sold for millions.
Goals have been a constant source of struggle for the Lilywhites and judging by what we’ve seen in pre-season, that trend is set to continue.
Last summer’s only signing Emil Riis netted just twice in his debut campaign, Sean Maguire has lost his scoring touch as well as his rapid pace due to hamstring injuries, Tom Barkhuizen scored just four times last season and the best of a mediocre bunch is Ched Evans, who scored five times after arriving in the January transfer window.
There’s also Scott Sinclair to consider if McAvoy persists with a 3-5-2 formation – his nine Championship goals last season made him the club’s top scorer and the fact he or anyone else couldn’t break the double figure mark was a worrying sign.
McAvoy has confirmed that the club are looking at striker targets but whether that search is followed up with any offers remain to be seen.
Quiz: What was the score the last time Preston North End played at each of these 24 stadiums?
The name that has been linked in the last week is Man City teenager Liam Delap, who LancsLive believe there is interest in and he was expected to play against North End in a friendly on Tuesday but he was apparently isolating.
Reports have since come out that Anderlecht and Vincent Kompany are looking at him, whilst Football League World’s sources believe that Stoke City are confident of landing the 18-year-old ahead of the new campaign.
That surely means that North End have to look elsewhere and they could do a lot worse than Aston Villa’s Keinan Davis.
The 23-year-old is wanted by a plethora of Championship clubs according to The Athletic and Stoke were one of those said to be involved, but if they’re confident of getting Delap then you can assume they won’t be in the race for Davis.
Davis will probably find himself as third-choice behind Ollie Watkins and Wesley if he remains at Villa Park and for the good of his career he needs to find himself a Championship club where he can lead the line.
On the face of it, Davis’ goalscoring record is far from impressive having netted just six times in an 85-match career for Villa, but most of his appearances have been short ones from the bench so it’s better to judge him off his 15 Premier League outings last season, where at times he proved to be a handful.
He would learn a lot from joining a club like North End and it would give him the chance to show that he can actually score goals when given the chance.
It would be silly if Davis was not on the radar of North End, however if there’s other second tier clubs interested then it could be yet another struggle as PNE aren’t exactly one of the top payers in the league, so when it comes to wage contributions they could get outmuscled.
Most people who will be inside Deepdale on August 7 for the visit of the Tigers will know that a new striker is needed – it all rests on Trevor Hemmings giving McAvoy the green light to bring one in.