Roper Reports will endeavour to make sense of the recent happenings at North End and offer general comment on the world of Football.
During the season there'll be a new report each week. You can navigate the season's articles by using the 'Older' and 'Newer' buttons or by using the drop-down menu.
Tuesday 30th April 2013
A season of frustration but ultimately real cause for optimism is how I would best describe the last nine months as North End bow out once again until August 3rd. What started with the usual round of friendlies moved on to a generally good start to the campaign and in particular two home wins against Huddersfield and Crystal Palace in the League Cup. The first part of the season started a little bit patchy but generally we were going along steadily with notable wins against Swindon at home and Doncaster and Stevenage away. As we moved into November things were still going steady and although Brentford got a last minute equaliser at Deepdale there was enough confidence to suggest that we would be there or thereabouts Ė then came the night of Tuesday November 20th and a home game against Notts County. It proved to be one of two pivotal moments in the season with Keith Keane and Scott Laird both sustaining serious injuries, and in Laird's case a leg break that would end his season.
Things went seriously downhill from that evening with defeats at Deepdale, so much so that the next league win came at bottom club Hartlepool on New Years Day six weeks later. North End's season was done and with defeat at Millwall four days later in the FA Cup our only chance of glory rested with the JPT Northern semi-final away at the Ricoh Arena. The game in front of the TV cameras could have provided some salvation for an increasingly isolated Graham Westley who had lost the faith of some and was fast losing the faith of most of the remainder. North End seemed to be heading for a Northern Area final against Crewe as we led 2-1 going into injury time but somehow we managed to concede twice through Baker and Clarke and the Westley epitaph was starting to be written. It was surely only a matter of time before Trevor Hemmings would say enough is enough as support started to turn against the manager in a big way, particularly at Deepdale. One point from the next four league games left North End teetering on the brink of the relegation zone and it seemed inevitable that defeat in Somerset against high-flying Yeovil would see the end of the line for a manager that the chairman...sorry consultant, had backed to the hilt and sometimes to his own detriment. Leading 1-0, North End were playing steady if unspectacular stuff but a second half capitulation saw us lose 3-1 and Mr Westley reached the end of the line. Peter Ridsdale met Westley at Waterloo Station to deliver the news which surely had not come as a surprise. It was to be the second and most significant pivotal moment of what turned out to be a very topsy-turvey campaign.
North End vowed to act quickly in appointing Westley's replacement but first there was the matter of a home game against Bournemouth, who were the league leaders. John Dreyer, who was Westley's coach, had been asked to stay on and as Dreyer strolled out on that chilly February day there was a feeling that the club had somehow been reborn again. The players and fans responded magnificently and North End comfortably won the game 2-0 to start the post-Westley era. Simon Grayson was duly appointed and 925 made the trip to high-flying Swindon the following Saturday to see a reborn Preston gain an excellent 1-1 draw in a game they should probably have won. The steady momentum built for the next thirteen games and Grayson's average of a point and a half a game saw North End climb to fourteenth well away from any relegation problems. The fans started to believe again and both home and away the support was positive and in growing number, with over 1,100 going to Sheffield for the last game of the season which was effectively a dead rubber.
In eight weeks Grayson has turned Deepdale from a place of despair to one of real hope with five wins and two draws from the seven games. It was in stark contrast to his predecessor who, in my opinion, caused embarrassment to the club with his tactics and behaviour. Often we would go away and be the target of ridicule most of which was caused by a manager clearly out of his depth with a club of our stature and history. He did not understand Preston North End and what this club means to its fans and the relief on his departure was felt from Leyland to Lancaster. I genuinely believe there are better days ahead for North End and Grayson is indeed the catalyst for those better times. He must be backed to some degree, though, in the transfer market as it's of no use to get a quality artist and only give him cheap paint to create his masterpiece. How it will pan out we will have to wait and see but from what we have seen so far the signs are very encouraging indeed.