The opening seven games of the EFL Championship season have been topsy-turvy for Preston North End to say the very least.
The Lilywhites have struggled to put their best foot forward at Deepdale, succumbing to 1-0 losses against Swansea City, Stoke City and Cardiff City.
It’s a completely different story on their travels though, with Alex Neil’s men cementing themselves as the early season away day specialists.
North End took a point from Norwich City in their second game of the season, before securing successive wins on the road over Brentford, Queens Park Rangers and Huddersfield Town.
The last two fixtures have seen Neil make do without two of his key men – Ben Davies and Ben Pearson – both of whom are suffering with injuries.
Both of the Ben’s are part of the ‘big four’ Preston players – along with Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne – who are yet to extend their contracts beyond the end of the current season.
And there’s bound to be interest in the pair who have shown how talented they are for the last few years.
Seeing how North End have played though against QPR and Huddersfield may leave Neil and Preston owner Trevor Hemmings with a big decision to make in the January transfer window regarding Pearson and Davies.
There’s absolutely no doubting that both players are in the upper echelons of their respective roles when it comes to the best players in the Championship, but Ryan Ledson and Jordan Storey are showing that they could well be full-time replacements for the pair.
Storey formed a partnership with Davies in 2018 when he arrived from Exeter City, but found his starts limited last season due to the signing of Patrick Bauer.
Whilst not a natural Davies replacement due to the fact the North End academy graduate is left-footed, Storey certainly possesses the same ball-playing skills that have seen the likes of Celtic and German clubs to be interested in the 25-year-old.
Similarly, Ledson isn’t a like-for-like Pearson clone, but he’s certainly as combative and has shown that he’s a more forward-thinking central midfielder than the former Manchester United youngster.
If North End continue to get good results without Davies and Pearson involved, the board will be wondering whether or not to cash in on the two stars in a couple of months time.
There has reportedly been no progress since the summer on new deals for the pair, and clubs from Scotland including Celtic and Rangers, and further afield can make pre-contract approaches in January, but can try and make a bit of profit from English clubs.
The club have been well known to sell stars in recent years and not re-invest too much money into the squad – the likes of Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson and Greg Cunningham have all departed for decent money.
Fans will be fearful of the ‘big four’ departing for pastures new without new players coming in to replace them, but the signing of Emil Riis Jakobsen from Randers in Denmark has brought optimism that the transfer structure at the club is evolving.
And providing Pearson and Davies are replaced should they be sold for cash in the January window, their potential departures may not be such a bad thing.