- Cup crisis
Reborn Preston are facing an acute manpower shortage for Saturday's
FA Cup tie with Premiership West Brom.
Last night's rousing win over form team Crewe came at a heavy price
with Brian O'Neil banned and Claude Davis crocked.
Added to an already lengthy list of likely absentees, North End are
now down to just 14 senior players - including two keepers - for the
visit of Bryan Robson's Baggies. And manager Billy Davies could be
working round the clock until Friday to bring in reinforcements.
Assistant boss David Kelly said: "We are trying hard to get players
in, but it is never as easy as it looks.
"The gaffer has a list of players we would like to get hold of. But
football clubs don't always want to let their players go."
Preston currently have an offer in for Bury's teenage striker Dave
Nugent. But even if they land one of the hottest prospects in the
lower divisions, he is cup-tied for Saturday.
The main area of concern appears to be in defence where last night's
injury to Davis has left the club with only two centre-halves and one
North End could also be struggling up front where Richard Cresswell's
ban for five yellow cards has left Davies with only Patrick Agyemang
and youngster Joe O'Neill as recognised strikers.
Loan star Filipe Oliveira could play that role. But the club are
still waiting to hear if Chelsea will allow the Portugal Under-21
international tofi gure in the game which would get him cup-tied.
Kelly said: "We have major problems at the moment. We are down to 14,
including two keepers. So the youth team might have to provide a few
players for Saturday.
"We have a small squad at the best of times. We are
playing a Premiership team and it is a massive game for us.
"We want to win it, but it is going to be very, very difficult with
the players we have missing.
"It is disappointing that Brian O'Neil will be out of it because he
has been playing exceptionally well for us.
"As for Claude we don't know at this stage. The physio will have a
good look at him today and assess the injury.
"I'm not sure what he's done. But, from the way he was hobbling about
the dressing room last night, he looks like he could be struggling.
"That is a major blow because Claude has been super over the last
couple of weeks.
"So defensively I would say we are looking very stretched - in fact
we are very stretched everywhere.
"Injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of football and you
just have to cope with it."
Preston's situation is not made any easier by having three players
out on loan at the moment - Simon Lynch (Blackpool), Michael Brown
(Chester) and Darran Kempson (Morecambe).
On top of that, Jamaica have called up winger Omar Daley for this
weekend's Caribbean Cup tie with French Guyana in Kingston.
PNE have already told the Reggae Boyz management he can attend for
what would be a return to the international fold after a six-month
Daley is due to join up with the squad tomorrow, so Davies faces a
difficult decision: Does he go or does he stay?
With Cresswell and O'Neil suspended and the list of unfit players
numbering as many as six - Callum Davidson,
Marlon Broomes, Eric Skora, Andy Smith, Tyrone Mears and possibly
Davis - the manager could be without 13 of his squad for Saturday's
The remainder have been given two days' rest to get over an
exhausting Christmas and New Year run of four games in eight days.
And Davies will be using every minute of the break to look for new
Davies has until noon Friday to get someone in after the scrapping of
the controversial seven-day rule for the FA Cup.
Kelly added: "We have been trying to do a lot of things without any
of them coming off so far.
"It is hard to say if anything will happen in time for the West Brom
game. "We will just have to wait and see."
The injury to Davis and the sending off of O'Neil took some of the
gloss off last night's marvellous victory at Gresty Road.
The win capped a superb Christmas and New Year with 13 points from a
possible 15 over the festive period - the best for almost 50 years.
North End had hoped to take that form into Saturday's cup match and
have a tilt at claiming a rare Premiership scalp.
"It was a great result as Crewe were on the back of a great run of
results," said Kelly.
"They are a good passing team, but I think we went there and we
dominated the game.
"Brian's sending off left us with a backs-to-the-wall
situation towards the end.
"But we came through it and it was another valuable three points."
The win moved PNE up to ninth in the table, level on points with
Derby County in eighth and Millwall in
They are now just three points away from a play-off place and are
playing with bags of confidence. Kelly said: "We are very pleased
with the way the Christmas and New Year period went.
"When we looked at the fixtures beforehand, it looked a very
difficult spell with some very difficult opponents -West Ham, Stoke,
Reading, Sunderland and Crewe. "But we have won four and drawn the
other. That's marvellous form in anyone's book. "We can't praise the
players enough for the way they have worked their socks off over such
a hectic time."
Crewe boss Dario Gradi was less-than generous to Preston after seeing
a run of eight games without defeat come to a halt.
"They are a decent side," he said."But they aren't better than us!"
The win was only North End's second away from home this season.
And it might at last have laid to rest the travelling jinx in 2004.
Since the start of November, Preston's record on the road reads: P6
W2 D2 L2.