Preview: Preston North End

Coventry City did exactly what was required of them at the weekend, in beating Sunderland at home to make it three wins in a row. While that didn’t result in the gap to the top six closing, it has prevented it getting any bigger and curbed the ambitions of a play-off rival. The task over the next week is to maintain the current level of performance, keep accumulating points and wait for opportunities to close in on sixth-place.

This away trip to Preston North End is not just about keeping Coventry City’s season going but ending another team’s. The Lilywhites, who are just one place and three points behind the Sky Blues, had been in a tail-spin prior to beating Wigan Athletic at the weekend, a win in this game for them would transform the mood around the club and adds another rival to the play-off picture. A defeat for Preston would mean that no-one currently below Coventry in the table can harbour realistic top six ambitions.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Rose; Norton-Cuffy, Eccles, Hamer, Bidwell; Allen, Wilson-Esbrand; Gyokeres.

Kasey Palmer having to limp off with an apparent hamstring strain at the weekend is far from ideal given just how slim Coventry City’s squad currently is. It has not been made clear just how long Palmer may be out for – or even if he will be absent – but it potentially leaves Mark Robins with a big call to make for this game as to whether to start Matt Godden, who only recently returned from a strain picked up by being rushed back into the team too early, or try out a less than ideal alternative.

If neither Kasey Palmer nor Matt Godden are realistic options to start this game, it leaves Tyler Walker, Sean Maguire or Josh Wilson-Esbrand competing for the remaining attacking position in the side. With Walker and Maguire having played precious little football in a Coventry City shirt this season, it seems as if Mark Robins will prefer the option to play neither, providing Josh Wilson-Esbrand with a chance to make amends for getting sent off in his last starting appearance for the club, albeit in an alien position to him.

Elsewhere, the other team selection call surrounds the fitness of Callum Doyle, who appeared to have picked up a knock during the Sunderland game, before eventually being substituted off later on in the final ten minutes. If Doyle is not fit enough to be involved in this game, it provides Michael Rose with what could well be one of his final opportunities to earn a new contract at the club. That is unless Jonathan Panzo is considered fit enough to start this game and provide a left-footed option on the left of the back three.

Last Time We Met

A full month after the season had started, Coventry City played their first home fixture of the campaign, with Preston North End the opposition. Looking nervous and uncertain of themselves, the Sky Blues were fortunate to enter the break with the scoreline goalless, especially with Ben Wilson having been deemed to have tripped Preston’s Troy Parrott just outside the penalty area when through on goal.

There was a slight improvement from Coventry City after the break, however, once Preston claimed the lead after some sloppy Sky Blues defending, there was little danger of the home side salvaging a result. It was all a far cry from the sunny, pulsating, cacophonous performances at the Coventry Building Society Arena just 12 months prior.

The Opposition

The Manager – Ryan Lowe

Having started so brightly at Preston North End over the back end of last season and the start of this one, a terrible run since November has put Ryan Lowe under severe pressure from Lilywhites fans. A manager who had built his career on open, attacking football, fuelled by a charismatic personality, Preston have been pretty dour for much of his time in charge of the club, seeing Lowe take on a colder, spikier persona in his comments to the fans.

Ryan Lowe has typically been a manager who has wanted his wing-backs and midfielders to push forward with abandon with his defenders joining in the attacking play and his strikers tending to score a lot of goals as a result. It has been almost the exact opposite in Lowe’s time at Preston – which he would likely argue is down to limited resources – with defence taking precedence over everything else the team does. A win over Wigan Athletic at the weekend was fuelled by a move to that more attack-minded approach, but that was only after the team were forced to chase the game from a losing position.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Woodman; Diaby, Lindsay, Cunningham; Potts, Ledson, Johnson, Fernandez; Browne; Parrott, Cannon.

The strength of this Preston North End side remains in midfield, where they have a good mix of battlers and ball-players. The jewel in Preston’s crown in the centre of the park is undoubtedly Daniel Johnson, an elegant, gliding midfielder who always seems to be at the heart of where play is developing. Alongside him at the moment are the battling duo of Alan Browne, a master of getting to second-balls, and Ryan Ledson, who loves to run around the pitch and fly into tackles, who are also not untalented technically in their own right.

Another name to look out for is left wing-back, Alvaro Fernandez, on loan from Manchester United. There are similarities between Fernandez and Ian Maatsen in that it is achingly apparent just how technically gifted he is, the kind of player whose touch and glide with the ball at his feet is worth the admission fee alone, but that hasn’t quite shown up in his end product. Nonetheless, he is a key out-ball for this Preston side, allowing to move swiftly up to the final third.

In attack, Preston North End have struggled to find a goalscorer that they can rely upon, but they have been boosted by the January addition of Everton youngster, Tom Cannon, and Tottenham loanee forward, Troy Parrott, being back from injury. Cannon grabbed his first senior goal at the weekend and is seen as nippy, off the shoulder of the last defender-style, goal poacher. Parrott is very quick and skilful with the ball at his feet but has a habit of losing his nerve in front of goal, but there is always the chance with him that he will find that and become a truly devastating attacking player.

At the back, Liam Lindsay has been a key figure in Preston North End’s back-line this season, helping them establish a strong defensive record with some imposing performances in the heart of their back three. Another key element of Preston’s resoluteness at the back is Freddie Woodman in goal, having shown himself to be one of the best operators in his position at Championship level during a spell on loan at Swansea City a few years ago, he has backed that up with a quietly imposing first campaign at Deepdale.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

After winning the physical battle against Sunderland at the weekend, replicating that feat against a tougher, more experienced Preston North End side will be a challenge of a different order. It is going to be a big test in particular of Josh Eccles’ battling qualities in central midfield against Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson, which could provide room for Daniel Johnson to take control of the game if Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen don’t muck in for what is likely to be the defining area of this game.

Ideally, both managers would look to be circumspect in their approaches for this game. Mark Robins has recently cottoned onto the idea that this Coventry City team is at its best sitting back somewhat so that Viktor Gyokeres can be fully harnessed on the counter-attack. Ryan Lowe has typically been defence-first in his approach at Preston North End. That could render this a contest between two teams that don’t really want to have the ball for long periods in the opposing half.

What could change that is Ryan Lowe’s need to pick up a positive result to help ease the current pressure from the Preston North End fans on his position. Having picked up a win from behind against Wigan Athletic at the weekend after going to a more attack-minded style, that could see Preston go on the front foot here and provide Coventry City with the chance to hit them on the counter if they can stand up to any initial flurry the home side puts together.

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