Preston North End enjoying best season in 13 years under Alex Neil

What a difference 12 months makes.

Preston North End are heading into the international break sitting second in the Championship table, with their highest points tally in 13 years.

It’s in stark contrast to this time last year when they were 16 points worse off and fans were beginning to grumble about Alex Neil’s management.

Fast forward to now and Neil’s side are the second-highest goalscorers in England’s top two leagues – behind just Manchester City (35) – having found the back of the net 31 times in their opening 16 games.

It’s been Preston’s best start to a season since their promotion from League One, while not since 2006/07 have they picked up more points from their opening 16 matches.

 

A key part of North End’s success has been their form at Deepdale, where the club are unbeaten and have picked up 23 points from a possible 27 – compared to 12 from 24 at this stage last season.

Neil’s side impressively have the best home form in the entire league, picking up 23 points at Deepdale this season where they’ve scored 25 goals and conceded just 10.

Although Preston’s away form isn’t the best on paper, they’ve shown signs of improvement as the season has gone on and they’ve only lost one of their last five league matches away from home.

Defensively, Preston have conceded almost half the amount of goals that they did at the same stage last season, with their only major defensive signing during the summer being Patrick Bauer from Charlton Athletic.

The 27-year-old has stepped straight into the first-team alongside Ben Davies, while his move to North End has also seen Bauer reunite with goalkeeper and former teammate Declan Rudd.

“We played a full season there together and we know what each other are about, so it made it really easy for him to slot in,” Rudd told UCLanLive.

Rudd has been an ever-present in the Championship this season.

“Obviously playing behind [Ben Davies] is a joy every time you step out there. He makes the game look so easy. It is good. 

“We’re building a really good relationship now and I just hope that we can keep that going.”

At the other end of the pitch, Preston have also seen a lot of improvement, scoring six more goals than they had at the same stage last season.

Daniel Johnson is helping to fill the gap left by last year’s top goalscorer Callum Robinson – he joined Sheffield United for £7m in the summer – and the 27-year-old has already scored eight goals.

Tom Barkhuizen is the club’s second top scorer with five goals, while Paul Gallagher has also chipped in with four.

This form under Neil hasn’t gone unnoticed in the terraces either.

While attendances at Deepdale started slowly this season, Preston sold more half-season tickets during the first five hours of them being on sale than they did during the entirety of last year – more than 300 have now been offloaded.

No one from the club will talk on the record about the possibility of promotion to the top flight.

But with North End’s form showing no signs of letting up any time soon, it would be no surprise if the eyes of the world are on Deepdale next season, under the banner of the Premier League.