The sacking of Alex Neil is a prime example of how quick football can change in 12 months. When football came to an abrupt pause in March 2020, the Lilywhites occupied the final play-off spot and were deserving of the successful season they were appearing to have.
Fast forward to March 2021, and the Scotsman has been relieved of his services, following a five-game winless run that was drawing them ever-closer to a relegation scrap.
Perhaps one of the most tactically proficient managers in English football, Neil had previously snubbed jobs at West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City during his three-and-a-half year spell, with his project at Preston his ultimate priority.
However, the 39-year-old seemed to run out of ideas as his tenure came to an end. A third successive defeat at home to Luton Town proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Neil, and his departure was announced the day after.
Now, the Lilywhites find themselves in a difficult situation where the type of manager they choose to employ will be rather telling about the club’s ambitions. Appointing another young, ambitious manager from a division or two below will certainly show the club’s intent. It could be deemed a risk at this stage of the season, but if Preston are to mount a serious promotion challenge in the next couple of years, finding a manager with a fresh identity could be their best hope.
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Given the fact that Preston are just nine points above Rotherham United, who also have four games in hand, could be ringing alarm bells at the club, who might now deem a trusted manager with a CV full of Championship experience as a top priority.
With the club still in 16th and above several sides who find themselves with even bigger problems, relegation is perhaps not an immediate concern. The club will be wary of what is going on below them but ultimately, Preston are sitting comfortable enough to avoid relegation talk for now.
With eight games remaining, Plymouth Argyle manager Ryan Lowe could be an ideal replacement for Alex Neil.
The 42-year-old has implemented a unique brand of attacking football at the South Coast club and his managerial career has been nothing short of excellent thus far.
For a third successive season, Lowe has surpassed his club’s expectations. He won promotion with Bury in his first season of management, before guiding Plymouth back to the third tier. This season it was all about survival and with the club 14 points clear of Wigan Athletic in 21st, that has certainly been achieved.
Given Plymouth’s mid-table stance, Preston would not be pulling Lowe away from any battles at either end of the table, meaning he could be willing to speak to the club should they make a move.