The Big Match Preview: Preston (A)

There hasn’t been too much cause for optimism over the past two years or so but excitement is building ahead of a stern test at Deepdale this weekend, but a Saturday night fixture in front of the Sky cameras and over 3,000 fans in a sold out away end is the perfect way to kickstart our stuttering season.

Morale is low after poor displays against Leeds and Brentford, with the performance versus the latter drawing boos from portions of the crowd at the Betannia, unwarranted in my opinion. There needs to be a reality for some fans who have so far failed to realise that the standard of teams in the division is not far off the bottom end of the Premier League and we have a target on our backs as the team that everyone wants to beat. I’m sorry to say that this weekend will be no different as we face yet another contender for the end of season play offs.

Preston are the third team in a row that we face who place emphasis on ball retention and moving the ball quickly between the thirds, all built upon a solid backline. Ben Pearson is the key to any possible system that they may play and as a proper ball playing defensive midfielder, an ideal solution to our own issues. The most likely system will be a 4-3-3, although the personnel they have can switch formation with relative ease, switching to a 4-5-1 when defending or a 4-2-3-1 with natural wide players.

Building a strong and cohesive unit can mean that attacking play is sacrificed for any team and it’s no different for Preston with goals hard to come by under Alex Neil, just 58 scored in 46 league games last term. This season has been no different, a 1-0 win at home to QPR was followed up with defeat at Swansea of the same scoreline. In terms of attacking threat, the two key men will be Callum Robinson and Tom Barkhuizen operating from either wing.

Barkhuizen in particular will be a threat as he possesses devastating pace from the right hand side, managing 8 goals last season and will almost certainly give Erik Pieters a hard time on the evening. Although they don’t have the same level of attacking talent as Leeds and Brentford, a well balanced 3 man midfield that moves the ball well is always likely to cause headaches.

We need to improve in key areas if we are to pick up our first win of the season on Saturday. First of all, the press needs to be far better than it has been in previous outings as teams have found it all too easy to cut through our midfield lines to run directly at our defenders. This is slightly different in that they don’t have an out and out number ten so will be looking to move the ball wide from deeper, meaning that our press should start from the front, looking to win the ball in the final third and counter attack from there, rather than in our own half.

A more mobile defensive midfielder is necessary against a lot of teams in the Championship but I do not believe that a natural number 4 is needed in this particular fixture. Instead, a double pivot of Allen and Etebo could provide the right dynamic to be successful in pressing the ball higher up the pitch

and moving the ball up through the thirds better than Darren Fletcher. Bojan has to start and be given the ball at every opportunity as our main creative outlet. He will be closely marshalled by the aforementioned Pearson but nobody else in the squad possesses the ability to break defensive lines with passing or dribbling.

It was clear to see a relationship developing between Bojan, Ince and Afobe on Saturday, with the latter’s movement finally giving us a dimension up front that has been missing perhaps since Ricardo Fuller.

Prediction – 2-0 Stoke. Ince, Afobe

Written by George Eltringham

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