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Friday, April 29, 2011

When It Rains...

In the wake of Preston North End's relegation from the npower Championship, Lakes explains why next season might be one of consolidation at best for The Lilywhites.

"Deadly" Darren Ferguson is largely to blame for relegation

Darren Ferguson, Maurice Lindsay and Trevor Hemmings. Ask any Northender what they think of any of those names, and it's likely you'll get very little change out of a pocket full of swearwords.

'Never has so much been owed to so many by so few', is the presiding sentiment haunting the message boards.

Far from heralding an inspirational new era at Deepdale, Lindsay, Hemmings and Ferguson instead take the entire blame for Preston's Championship ambitions turning to dust.

For the uninitiated, Hemmings (Preston's majority shareholder when PNE were a PLC) bought out Preston, installing Maurice Lindsay at the helm as chairman, and getting friend's son Darren Ferguson in as manager.

Northenders deservedly, perhaps, expected a new wave of investment at Deepdale - and perhaps, finally, a properly bankrolled push for the Premier League.

What they got, cynics argue, was a new era of austerity, instead. Loans were the order of the day - a fragile strategy, dependent on the whims of the parties involved, as Preston were to find out to their cost.

After a string of dreadful performances and bizarre tactical displays, Ferguson's tenure was finally brought to an end.

The club was wrecked and seemingly destined for League One. But there was still hope - a new manager could bring change, and a push for safety.

That new manager would find himself without several key players, though, recalled by Ferguson Snr. upon hearing the news his son had been sacked.

What came next was the only positive in North End's season - Phil Brown. Saying and doing all the right things, it looked like survival could still be on the cards.

Yet time ran out for North End. Brown, inheriting a ruined side, could do little in the end - despite vastly improved performances and valiant displays.

When the final blow came, confirming North End's relegation (a defeat at home to Cardiff), Brown was on the verge of breaking down in tears in front of supporters - a true sign that he is passionate and committed.

He took the blame for relegation, yet most people won't look any further than the doorstep of Darren Ferguson, Trevor Hemmings and Maurice Lindsay.

Hemmings, for years a mysterious, benevolent figure, has turned in many fans' eyes into a scrimper, determined to finally wring some money from North End by rebuilding from scratch.

His mouthpiece, chairman Lindsay, has spoken in similar terms - encouraging a fresh start, naively enthusiastic about the prospect of a reduced wage bill and the cakewalk of League One.

A dreadful, dreadful mistake - and one which may prove more costly still for North End.

League One, as any self-respecting football fan would tell you, is not a cakewalk. Statistics show that teams dropping to the third tier have more chance of "doing a Plymouth" than "doing a Norwich".

Lindsay, however, seems oblivious to the difficulties teams face at that level, re-energising debate that Lindsay's first love is rugby.

Preston chairman Maurice Lindsay - a rugby fan?

And then, following relegation, Lindsay recorded "that interview" with BBC Radio Lancashire.

In it, Lindsay seemed to sincerely believe Darren Gibson was playing for Preston - a startling oversight for a chairman.

Other things were said that were much more hurtful to Preston fans - not least Lindsay's regular habit of using "they" in describing the club and supporters. I would urge a visit to the Preston North End Online forum for more detail on that.

It's not pleasant reading for Lindsay, but it's hard to disagree with anything written there.

A poll conducted on the site shows 85.93% of the 200 or so people sampled have no confidence in Maurice Lindsay, or are undecided. Meaning only 14.07% believe he's the man for the job.

It's as damning a poll as I've ever seen on the site and even accounting for post-relegation emotion and scapegoating, it doesn't imply an air of positivity among Preston fans right now.

The mood has certainly turned, from cautious optimism to severe doubt that the current regime is the right one to take the club back to the Championship.

It sounded so good when Hemmings came in. It sounded like we were on the road to prosperity. What we got was a cost-lowering relegation with suspicions of a deeper agenda at work behind the scenes.

After years of stability at Championship level, Preston fans have every right to be angry. And the exodus is yet to begin in earnest...

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