Preston chase taste of the big time

Preston North End 0 West Bromwich 0: Lack of funds at Deepdale hampering Irvine's push to escape the Championship
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The Independent Football

The last two decades have not been easy for Preston supporters. They have endured a series of Premiership near-misses while enviously looking on as three of their North-west rivals, Blackburn, Wigan and Burnley, successfully gatecrashed the party.

Furthermore a fourth – and traditionally the biggest– local rival, Blackpool, have been creeping up on the rails and are now threatening to mount their own unlikely bid for Premier League status this season, revitalised under the leadership of Ian Holloway.

It would wound Deepdale pride if Blackpool were to achieve their ambition, and thus set Preston aside as the only major football club in west Lancashire not to have tasted English football's high life.

Preston were, after all, once the region's premier club – founder members of the Football League in 1888, league champions in 1889 and 1890 with their "Invincibles", FA Cup winners in 1889 and 1938 and, of course, it was the place where the great Sir Tom Finney played.

Football's traditions are rooted in the city, the National Football Museum, which opened eight years ago and attracts over 100,000 visitors each year, is based at Deepdale, although the council and the club are fighting to prevent it being moved to Manchester's Urbis Centre.

Manchester City Council claims the museum's development is held back by insufficient funding and that is something Preston North End's manager, Alan Irvine, could identify with as he tries to deliver Premier League football.

In his matchday programme notes on Saturday, Irvine observed: "It has been suggested that we cannot compete with big clubs like West Bromwich Albion. We know financially that it is not a level playing field in the Championship, but we have to accept that."

Irvine was last month forced to accept the loss of defender Sean St Ledger to another of the club's promotion rivals, Middlesbrough, on a three-month loan with a view to a permanent deal in January thought to be worth up to £3m. The chances of Irvine receiving all of that windfall to bolster his squad are slim, but the former Everton coach is almost certain to ask to spend some of it when the transfer window re-opens. Irvine has just 21 senior professionals in his squad and is reluctant to draw on the club's pool of youth players.

Time is of the essence, and Irvine said: "When you do not have much money it is difficult to gamble on young players and wait for them to come through and develop into Championship players."

For Albion, the problem in recent years has not been in reaching the Premier League, but staying there. Manager Roberto Di Matteo faces different challenges in regaining the status lost last season under previous coach Tony Mowbray, whose strategy of putting neat football above pragmatism was brave, but ultimately futile. Albion still pass the ball around, but have added a functional side to their game which was illustrated in this dour draw of few chances, save for a couple which fell to Graham Dorrans and were brilliantly repelled by home goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.

For two managers whose time is now, it was an oddly inert stand-off.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Lonergan; Jones, Mawene, Collins, Nolan; Sedgwick, Chaplow (Shumulikoski, 71), Carter, Wallace; Brown (Parkin, 65), Mellor. Substitutes not used: Henderson, Hart, Chilvers, Elliott

West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Mattock; Brunt (Koren, 60), Dorrans, Mulumbu (Martis, 90), Jara, Cech (Reid, 79); Bednar. Substitutes not used: Kiely, Barnett, Wood, Cox.

Referee: A Bates (Staffordshire).

Man of the Match: Lonergan.

Attendance: 11,180.