The Preston Breakdown

After the Brentford match last week I started the post-match piece with ‘What is happening at Stoke?’ and I still don’t have the answer to that question. Preston was the worst game of the season so far for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to the performance on the day. You could sense the nerves amongst the fans before kick off and it only took a few minutes for the atmosphere in the away end to become toxic, boos ringing out after every stray pass or ball back to Butland.

The feel around the club just isn’t right at the moment and it’s clear from Gary Rowett’s post match interviews that the ever popular and reliable duo of Scholes and Cartwright have failed to pull their weight yet again, leaving him with a squad of players that he doesn’t know what to do with. At the time of writing this, we have 10 central midfielders in the first team squad with no fewer than 290 full international caps between them and Darren Fletcher is the only one of them even slightly ‘capable’ of playing as a sitting midfielder, an issue that is unlikely to be addressed any time soon.

Looking at the game, there was a plan there but the problem was that it just wasn’t very good. All I can describe it as is Pulisball 2.0 but less effective and for some that’s just what they wanted but for myself, I really, really don’t want to see that style of football again. Direct football is all well and good when you have the personnel to properly implement it, but hitting long diagonal balls in the general direction of Afobe, McClean and Berahino just isn’t an effective strategy.

What we really missed at the weekend was a player with the ability to use the ball efficiently between the lines and could move the ball between the thirds with passes or at his feet. This is a team that should be built around Bojan which was pretty evident against Brentford.

The relationship between himself, Ince and Afobe was clearly developing and stretching defenders with their movement, something definitely lacking against Preston. The tempo just isn’t high enough at the moment and the passes played are all too predictable, either long diagonal balls to the left hand side or side to side passing.

Preston were very narrow off the ball making them susceptible to attacks down the flanks, particularly from overlapping runs from the full backs which is why dropping Bauer was another strange decision. He’s had a below par start to the season but still provides a different dimension from full back with his pace and was one of if not the only player who came out of last season with any sort of recognition.

I appreciate how poor the start to the season has been but some perspective is needed. Firstly, we’ve played three good teams who would all hope to be in and around the top 6 come the end of the season and we’ve got a target on our backs being the favourites for the league so teams are bound to raise their games against us. In terms of positives, both full backs looked good, Erik Pieters in particular, as did Tom Ince who looked

dangerous in spells, mostly after he was moved over to the left hand side to accommodate for Diouf. Another positive is that we have the best plan B in world football. Being able to bring someone on with a very different set of skills to anyone else is certainly a bonus but should never be considered a plan A.

Whilst Crouch is a good impact player and a good player to have around the squad, the whole team needs to play to his strengths if he is to start and that is too big a sacrifice to make. His lack of mobility becomes a problem over the course of 90 minutes because teams can hold a very high line and press higher up the pitch, something we cannot cope with very well. There is no need to panic just yet as we adjust to a new manager and a new style but performances do need to improve over the next few weeks as we look to gain some momentum against ‘lesser’ teams as players and systems begin to gel.

Written by George Eltringham

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