By Tony Leighton
Following a massive summer turnaround in Preston North End's playing squad, manager Graham Westley, in his first full season at the npower League 1 club, is going patiently about the task of building a team capable of challenging for promotion - and is asking the Lilywhites supporters for their patience, too.
Looking to make a return to the npower Championship two seasons after being relegated, Preston have made a solid start to their League 1 campaign and also had impressive Capital One Cup wins against Huddersfield Town and Crystal Palace before going down to a third Championship club, Middlesbrough, in Tuesday's Third Round.
Westley's team have had a couple of League losses, but they have been balanced by big wins against Swindon Town and Hartlepool United. The manager said: "We're starting relatively from scratch and building up from there, but we've put in some decent performances and I think we've shown we've got a lot of qualities at our club.
"I've been consistent in my views, though, that when you pull a lot [of new players] together, you are going to get hiccups along the way - and we've pulled an enormous amount together. I'm learning about the players, the players are learning about each other, and every now and then you get a selection that doesn't work out for you.
"It makes you think about who you've put together and what combinations you've used. Home and away, you've got to learn about your players - and our knowledge and evolution will change by the day and by the week and by the game."
Preston fans will be hoping for that evolution to continue apace as Westley, who arrived at Deepdale from League 1 rivals Stevenage in January, moulds his new-look team. But the manager remains self-admittedly cautious.
"In these early weeks, as the expectation around our club builds," he said, "I've probably been the first one to say 'look, just be patient with the players,' because they've got a lot of learning to do and every now and then learning can bite you.
"You have to keep learning if you're going to win consistently. We've not been carried away by good results and we've been aware of shortfalls in our game. When things go wrong and you're a side at an early stage of evolution, you've got to be honest but you must also be patient in terms of the learning and development process.
"I don't ever really think beyond doing our best to win the next game. We've had a solid if unspectacular start, we've played some really good football but we've put in some awkward performances too, so we're learning. As we learn and make mistakes together, we have to make sure we emerge stronger - that's how winning gets done."
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