Preview: Preston North End

A spirited performance at a strong Hull City side has done little to quell the mood of discontent surrounding Coventry City. Heading into the first home game of the season, picking up that first win is of paramount importance. Additionally, coming through these final couple of days of the transfer window with a competitive squad is the other key objective at this moment in time.

While it has been typical of Coventry City to start seasons slowly on the road, it is nearly six months since Sky Blues fans have seen their team win on their own turf. With just three wins from their past 14 games at the CBS Arena, Coventry City had the worst home record in the division since the middle of last November. If this season is to be anything other than a struggle, Coventry City’s home form is in desperate need of being rectified. Preston North End, as the first visitors this season, will not make it easy.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Rose, McFadzean, Doyle; Dabo, Hamer, Sheaf, Bidwell; Allen; Godden, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

With this article written in the morning of the penultimate day of the transfer window, things may change with regards to player availability between now and this evening. At the time of writing, there are no further rumours linking Coventry City’s star players with moves away, thus it can only be assumed that Mark Robins’ only impediments from naming a full-strength team here will be injury-related.

On that front, Liam Kelly and Todd Kane appear to be the only absentees for this game, neither of whom would be in consideration for the Sky Blues’ strongest XI anyway. The return of Gustavo Hamer from suspension will provide Mark Robins with a stronger hand to play than last Saturday.

The midfielder is likely to slot straight back into the midfield, which will in turn see either Jamie Allen or Kasey Palmer drop out of the starting line-up. As bright as Palmer looked against Hull City, concerns over his fitness levels (as well as the sense that Allen is considered a more reliable performer by Mark Robins) will probably see him come out of the side, with Allen pushed into the attacking midfield position.

At the back, the manager probably would like to drop Simon Moore after some further costly errors in goal at the weekend. While that could very much happen, Moore may well be saved for the time being due to how much worse his deputy, Ben Wilson, is. The focus in this game may well be in how the players in front of Moore can ease the pressure on him.

Without an authoritative, steadying defensive presence to come into that back three, it is likely to have to be a change in mentality that will foment improvement at the back. One change that could be made is to bring Callum Doyle in for Jonathan Panzo on the left of the central defensive trio, with the latter having looked a little all over the place positionally over the past few games.

Last Time We Met

In an ill-tempered game of little quality back in March, a fatigued Coventry City side laboured against a decent Preston North End outfit who mainly looked intent on committing niggly fouls and running down the clock. North End’s approach looked like it might have cost them the game, after Liam Lindsay was sent-off for two bookable offences with six minutes left. However, the away team broke from the set-piece awarded after Lindsay’s exit and won a penalty after Fankaty Dabo brought down Emil Riis Jakobsen, earning a red card of his own.

With Daniel Johnson scoring the resulting spot-kick, Preston North End looked to have pulled-off pretty much the perfect away performance. However, they were punished for some pretty egregious timewasting, providing enough time for Fabio Tavares to arch in a dazzling effort in the ninth minute of second-half stoppage-time to secure a late point for the Sky Blues.

One of the moments of last season, it has to be noted that it was marred by several idiots from the Coventry City fanbase running onto the pitch during the latter stages of the game, making the club look incredibly small-time.

The Opposition

The Manager – Ryan Lowe

A charismatic presence in the dug-out who prefers an attack-minded brand of football, it is easy to see why Preston North End fans were won over so quickly by Ryan Lowe. After easing the club away from relegation danger last season, even threatening to gate-crash the chase for the top six, Lowe’s target had been to push on with North End this season. However, a slow summer of recruitment has precipitated a slow start to the campaign.

Incredibly, Preston North End’s six league fixtures this season have featured just one goal, in total. It is especially remarkable given that Ryan Lowe isn’t a defensively-minded manager by any stretch of the imagination. As much as it highlights the manager’s difficulties in getting his attack to click, six clean sheets in six games is impressive stuff at the back – a record Mark Robins would probably kill for at this moment in time.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Woodman; Storey, Lindsay, Cunningham; Potts, Whiteman, Ledson, Brady; Johnson; Riis Jakobsen, Parrott.
Possible Line-Up

Having looked to be on the verge of leaving the club, Preston North End’s star striker, Emil Riis Jakobsen is now likely to stick around at Deepdale. The Giant Dane is an especially important figure at the club right now given that he is the only striker on the books who has scored a goal since Ryan Lowe took over the club last November, although there remains the sense that he isn’t quite the manager’s cup of tea as a footballer.

It is in midfield where Preston North End are strongest, where players of the quality of Alan Browne and Ali McCann are unable to get into the side. That is because the energy and drive on the ball provided by the duo of Ben Whiteman and Ryan Ledson is so good, providing the platform for the cultured Daniel Johnson to push forward and glide into dangerous areas. In addition, the summer signing of Troy Parrott in attack provides the team with another creative player of immense guile.

A key addition for Preston North End over the summer has been Robbie Brady, after a few years on the fringes at Burnley and Bournemouth. Predominantly a winger, Brady has had experience earlier in his career at left-back, making him a good fit for Ryan Lowe’s attacking style from wing-back. A lot of Preston’s attacking play has gone through Brady thus far this season, particularly through comes from deep, which is what caused the Sky Blues’ defence so many problems at the weekend.

It would be remiss not to mention Preston North End’s defence, which is yet to be breached in league action this season. Freddie Woodman has proved a strong replacement for outgoing loan star Daniel Iversen in goal, while Ryan Lowe’s management has seen unheralded defensive players such as Andrew Hughes, Jordan Storey and Liam Lindsay emerge as highly-effective Championship performers in a back three.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

It would be wrong to assume that Preston North End’s goals for and against record this season indicates that they are a defensive-minded team. They are capable of playing excellent football and dominating games, although those dominant performances this season have been at home. A 4-1 win over a nearly full-strength Huddersfield Town in the League Cup a few weeks ago demonstrates what Preston may be capable of when things click for them.

The midfield battle is going to be the key area in determining how this game plays out. Preston North End have a good combination of bite, energy and skill on the ball in that area of the pitch, but so does Coventry City. If Gustavo Hamer can play with a greater level of focus and discipline than he has shown thus far this campaign, that could see the Sky Blues gain a level control of possession and look to test Preston’s non-defensively-minded wing-backs by looking to play balls in behind hem. However, Preston have the nous in that area of the pitch to look to rile Hamer up and distract his focus from the game.

Another area to watch in this game will in how Mark Robins begins to address the team’s defensive issues. The manager’s post-match comments after the Hull City game may well suggest that he will look towards a more cautious approach in upcoming matches, believing that there is enough in Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres going forward to account for being less free-flowing as a team-unit. The risk is that invites pressure while rendering Godden and Gyokeres less effective by limiting their service.

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