We’ve had a little time to recover now from two defeats in the space of five days. Sometimes losing is not necessarily a bad thing and given that our performances even in victory this season had been a little less than convincing Steven Pressley has had time now to reflect on what the team could be doing better.
The forthcoming meeting with Preston North End will be a full-blooded contest to put Pressley’s solutions to last week’s defeats to the test. After two wins in our first two games back at the Ricoh Arena, this game will test how big an impact our return home will have on our fortunes this season.
One of the plus points from last Saturday’s defeat at Rochdale was the performance of youngster Jack Finch as a second-half substitute. The midfielder who had previously played in defence in his first two appearances of the season looked assured and composed playing in front of the defence. Pressley has always been reticent to throw in relatively untested youngsters too soon but with fitness doubts over both Conor Thomas and John Fleck, this could be Finch’s chance to make his starting debut for the club.
With Reda Johnson entering the second game of his three-match ban after his sending off against Scunthorpe Seb Hines should continue on the left-hand side of a three-man defence. The main defensive team selection issue will be whether to restore Ryan Haynes to the left wing-back slot after Danny Pugh’s poor positional play against Rochdale contributed heavily to the penalty that we conceded in that game. However against a blood and thunder Preston North End side it might be wise to hand the shirt to the experienced professional in defence.
Josh McQuoid and Shaun Miller should now be ready to return to the squad, with Frank Nouble and Simeon Jackson showing signs of being a potentially lethal strike partnership at this level you cannot see the duo being broken up right now. Frank Nouble is another doubt due to injury and you would imagine that either Marcus Tudgay or Josh McQuoid would be a more natural strike partner for Simeon Jackson should Nouble not be deemed fit enough to start.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Hines, Pugh; Swanson, Fleck, O’Brien; Tudgay, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
The two contests with Preston North End added to the legacy of memorable meetings between the two teams ever since our respective relegations to the third-tier. At Sixfields the two teams served up an absurd contest which ended 4-4. Given last week’s defeats were so poor in our lack of attacking impetus in the final minutes, it’s poignant to reflect that the introduction Mathieu Manset as a third striker led to a chaotic final few minutes where Coventry City turned around a 2-1 scoreline to first make it 3-2 and then to salvage a point after falling 4-3 behind in injury time.
Injury time drama was also on show during our most recent meeting with Preston at Deepdale. After being dominated by our opponents for large portions of the game, the sending-off of Kevin Davies for the home side changed the momentum of the game in the final few minutes. Franck Moussa eventually secured a point for the Sky Blues with a ludicrously ambitious long-range effort right at the death. Again you look at our current squad and wonder which of our players would be impudent enough to attempt something like that in the final seconds of the game.
How Are They Doing?
Like many I expected Preston to take last season’s play-off semi-final defeat in their stride and continue that relentless consistency which was their hallmark last season, especially so after retaining last season’s top-scorer Joe Garner. Preston have yet to really find that form from last season and sit in 8th place with three wins this season but just one defeat. Then again, Brentford didn’t start last season all that well but eventually stepped up a gear over winter, Preston will be looking to put a run together now after beating Crawley last week.
What many don’t realise is that despite their reputation, finances are fairly tight at Preston. In comparison to the likes of Sheffield United and Bristol City who all spent money on proven strikers for this level in Michael Higdon and Kieran Agard, Preston had to look at the free transfer market to bring in the workmanlike duo of Jordan Hugill and Andy Little.
Given their lack of attacking options, something exacerbated by injuries to Kevin Davies and Jordan Hugill, manager Simon Grayson has had to change the formation from last season’s 4-4-2. Their recent victory over Crawley, their first in four league games, saw the Lilywhites line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Whilst Joe Garner is a classic goal-poacher style striker, the quality in midfield of Neil Kilkenny, Josh Brownhill and Paul Gallagher means that he doesn’t have to provide too much hold-up play as a lone striker. However despite dominating possession and chances against Crawley, their win was secured by a goal from a set-piece and a penalty, suggesting that they are still unsure how to create high quality chances from open play.
The main danger-man for Preston will be Joe Garner, despite the team’s slow form the former Carlisle and Watford striker has managed 6 goals this season. He will be supported in attack by the Leicester loanee Paul Gallagher who is the one player in the team allowed the freedom of not having to contribute to the team’s defensive shape and will float in the space between our midfield and defence.
One of the up-shots of Preston’s tactical switch to 4-3-3 has been the ability to play both Neil Kilkenny and youngster Josh Brownhill together in the centre of the park. The energetic Irish midfielder Alan Browne provides a lot of the harrying and hustling to allow Kilkenny and Brownhill to play more creative roles, Kilkenny as a deeper-lying ball-playing midfielder and Brownhill contributing to the team’s pressing but also able to offer a killer final pass.
Preston can call on an international defender in Bailey Wright in the centre of their defence for this meeting. Wright progressed through the club’s academy before becoming a regular in the side last season under Simon Grayson. The Australian can be something of a hot-head but that often makes him all the more competitive against his centre-forward.
There is something of a dilemma in goal for Preston, Jamie Jones, a man once kept out of the Leyton Orient team by Ryan Allsop, had been earmarked to step in to fill the void left by Declan Rudd who returned to Norwich after a loan spell at Deepdale but Jones hasn’t convinced many at the club. Thorsten Stuckmann has been around the club for four seasons now without ever making the goalkeepers’ jersey his own, you would wonder why that has been the case but some Preston fans are now calling on the German to be given a starting spot for this game.
Our opponents will also have some very strong options to introduce from the bench, particularly if they want to introduce pace to stretch our defence in the final minutes. Chris Humphrey and Kyel Reid are both fairly standard but effective speed merchants from the flanks and either may even start the game. Additionally, Villa loanee Callum Robinson has pace to burn and was someone who did not look out of place in the Premier League towards the end of last season. The pace that Preston have at their disposal will test our defensive organisation as they’ll look to exploit the space between wing-back and centre-back.
Possible Line-Up: (4-3-3) Jones; Woods, Wright, Clarke, Laird; Browne, Kilkenny, Brownhill; Humphrey, Garner, Gallagher.
In many ways it might be good for the team to face such quality opposition after losing back-to-back games. A win would return that optimism that promotion is a realistic ambition for us this season, a point would not be a bad result either. However given that we have yet to take any points from losing positions this season, Preston seem fairly well set-up to score an early goal and shut up shop against us.
The main hope for this game is that the fairly decent atmosphere at the Ricoh will spur the team on and elevate their performance levels. It seems important to our confidence that we end the losing streak as early as possible. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.