Preview: Preston North End

Saturday’s second-half comeback against Blackburn Rovers could prove to be a turning-point in Coventry City’s poor away form at this early stage of the season. Building on that to secure a first league win in the club’s history at Preston North End would further put to bed the notion that the Sky Blues can only perform in Coventry, while also providing a nice boost to the team’s promotion credentials..

Against a Preston North End side that hasn’t won in the league since the end of August, this looks as good an opportunity as there can be to end the club’s Deepdale hoodoo. However, it should be clear by now that anything less than maximum intensity from this Coventry City side could be punished with another negative result on the road.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Rose; Dabo, Hamer, Kelly, Maatsen; O'Hare; Walker, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

The return of Ian Maatsen to contention immediately resolves Mark Robins’ biggest selection issue from the last game of not having a left wing-back. Todd Kane grabbing himself an assist at right wing-back against Blackburn Rovers makes it a slightly harder decision than it would otherwise be to boot him out of the side, nonetheless, Fankaty Dabo is such a strong performer that there isn’t really a debate to be had as to who starts on the right.

Elsewhere, a recent knock to Gustavo Hamer was the only reason why he didn’t start against Blackburn Rovers following his return from suspension. However, his return from the bench, in place of Ben Sheaf, suggests that he is ready to make the step up to starting status for this game.

Finally, there is a level of doubt as to whether Viktor Gyokeres might start this game, given a rather nasty picture of a swollen ankle he shared on social media over the weekend. If he is unable to start here, it is a choice between Martyn Waghorn or moving to the 3-4-2-1 system. Given that Tyler Walker is more of a threat when paired with someone who can do the donkey work outside of the penalty area for him, Waghorn would be the preferred option if Gyokeres cannot start this game.

Last Time We Met

In an absolutely meaningless end of season game between two sides that were, more-or-less, safe, it was only an erratic performance from Ben Wilson that made the contest even vaguely interesting. After flapping at a cross early in the second-half to leave Preston North End with an open goal, which they spurned, Wilson remained in kamikaze mode as he completely misread a long punt forward and pushed Ched Evans to the ground for one of the most obvious penalty decisions the referee will have made in his career.

With North End scoring from the spot, there was little ability or inclination from the Sky Blues to get back into the game, allowing the away team to easily see out the win. The most significant thing to come from that game would have a sharpening of the need to bring in a goalkeeper over the summer.

The Opposition

The Manager – Frankie McAvoy

That victory back in April was part of a run of smash-and-grab wins under Frankie McAvoy’s caretaker manager that won him the permanent gig. Seeming to encapsulate a sense of stasis at Deepdale over the past couple of years, McAvoy has been left with a pretty stale squad that is lacking in one or two key areas and doesn’t seem to be the man to inject a new set of ideas that could re-energise a club that had been play-off dark horses in years prior.

Performances under McAvoy have been far from terrible this season, mainly because Preston North End still have a squad that possesses a number of experienced, reliable performers at Championship level, but there is an overall directionlessness around the club that McAvoy, who hadn’t been a manager until his caretaker spell, has been unable to overcome. Preston can make life difficult for opponents but have often lacked the ability to impose themselves on games.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Iversen; Storey, Bauer, Hughes; van den Berg, Whiteman, Browne, Earl; Johnson; Jakobsen, Barkhuizen.
Possible Line-Up

The key feature of this Preston North End side remains the options they possess in central midfield. Whether it’s players such as Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson, who are very combative and can make it difficult for opposition sides to play through North End, or the likes of Ben Whiteman and Daniel Johnson, who can step up with match-winning moments, Frankie McAvoy has the ability to change things up without compromising on quality. That Northern Ireland international, Ali McCann, is yet to make an impression since signing this summer underlines the strength in depth North End possess in the centre of the park.

At the back, the dominant figure of Patrick Bauer tends to be important for Preston in providing a presence in central defence. Furthermore, Leicester City loanee, Daniel Iversen, is a stellar performer in goal, who has helped keep Preston’s points tally ticking over this season, despite having to soak up a lot of pressure.

In attack, the early season scoring form of giant Danish striker, Emil Riis Jakobsen, has been a boost after a failure to bring in an out-and-out goalscorer over the summer. Jakobsen’s physical presence, and long throw-in, is also a key element in Preston’s niggle factor, alongside the work-rate of fellow forwards, Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Preston North End may well be coming into this game with a point to prove having being completely outplayed in front of their own fans by Derby County last time out in a 0-0 draw. A pointed interview from forward, Tom Barkhuizen, to the local press underlined the malaise around Preston at this moment in time, which could make them quite unpredictable as to their level of motivation and tactical plans.

On the face of it, this is likely to be a game where the Sky Blues are going to have a level of control of possession and it will be a case of what can be done to break through a set defence. That could make a case for Ben Sheaf starting, as well as moving to the 3-4-2-1 to give that extra level of control in midfield. At the very least, Gustavo Hamer and Ian Maatsen’s likely returns to the starting line-up are going to useful in providing extra quality in possession. It will then be up to Callum O’Hare and the strikers to make runs that will stretch Preston’s defence.

The direct and quick running of Tom Barkhuizen on the counter could be a key area where Preston can cause the Coventry City defence problems – especially in the absence of Jake Clarke-Salter’s recovery pace. This is a game where the Sky Blues will have to be careful that, if they’re not on top form, Preston are capable of nicking something at the other end and sitting on a lead.

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