Match Preview: Birmingham City vs. Preston North End


North End face a quick turnaround from their 2-0 defeat to Bristol City at the weekend with a trip to St. Andrew’s on Wednesday night. Alex Neil’s men head to the midlands for their third away game in a row as they face 18th placed Birmingham City.

North End have only lost once in their last 6 visits to St. Andrew’s, that coming in the form of a 3-0 defeat in 2018. Yes, it’s the one everybody remembers for Declan Rudd’s howler.

The two sides have faced each other already this season with the reverse fixture ending in a 2-1 Birmingham win. Not even a spectacular volley from Jayden Stockley could prevent North End falling to a 5th home defeat in a row.

Embed from Getty Images

Since that match, North End have picked up, especially at home but their incredible away form from the start of the campaign has dipped with just 2 wins from their last 6 games away from Deepdale. However, the Blues haven’t been great with just 3 wins from the last 16. 

The game is also likely to hold significance on an individual level as it’s looking likely to be Paul Huntington’s 300th game for North End. The ‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’ will become the 26th player in the club’s history to reach the landmark and hats off to him for it. 

Potential Dangers

The first player I would pick out as a potential danger would be striker Scott Hogan. The former Aston Villa man was on loan with Blues before his move was made permanent and the Irishman is a poacher at this level.

He’s played at all levels including a number of spells in non-league, before playing consistently in league 2 with Rochdale where he was the top scorer for the 2013/14 season and saw his team get promoted into the third tier. He then got a move to Championship side Brentford for a reported fee of £750,000.

After three successful campaigns at Griffin Park, Hogan moved to Villa Park for a significant sum, said to be above £10m. He had some unsuccessful loan spells away from Villa but seems to have found his form again on the blue side of Birmingham.

Embed from Getty Images

Having scored the winner for Birmingham at the weekend in a 1-0 win against Middlesbrough, the Irish international will be looking to make to goals in back to back games as Brum look to record their first back to back wins since the beginning of December. 

The second player who I would pick out might come as a surprise but I’m going to highlight their number 1 goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge. Granted, he’s not going to be scoring any on Wednesday night, but he has put in some inspired performances this season, especially saving from 12 yards on more than one occasion.

The Filipino has already saved two penalties this season, one being from Lucas Joao in a 2-1 win away at Reading, a game in fact, in which he saved his side a number of times as they were down to 10 men and fought impressively to protect their lead.

With North End not exactly in inspiring from in front of goal as of late, with only one goal in our last 3 games, it may take something special to beat the former Cardiff goalkeeper on Wednesday night.

Opposition View

For our opposition view this week, we have the excellent Gab Sutton. Gab is a Birmingham City fan and also an EFL pundit. You can find him on Twitter here and he’s well worth a follow for insight into the EFL on a wider scale – @GabSutton.

I think the word to describe Birmingham’s season so far would be underwhelming.

Not horrendous, not terrible… I still support Aitor Karanka based on both his and our own recent records, but I do want to see more from him and the team.

Karanka has changed formation and personnel a lot this year to combat the condensed fixture list which I can understand, but I feel that tendency has taken something away from the synergy of the team and our ability to create a clear playing identity.

Embed from Getty Images

There has been lots of games when we have sat deep in the first half, almost hoping to get in 0-0 at half-time – which has very often been the case – and then grow into games after the interval with a 10 or 15-minute spell.

That has worked in certain games, but it does leave us with a small window of time in which to score our goals and, when we have got our noses in front, sometimes we’ve been too protective of our lead for our own good.

Having said that, I was encouraged by the way we started at Middlesbrough in our previous game.

The way we pressed with the tenacity of Ivan Sunjic and Maikel Kieftenbeld in midfield is something I want to see more of from the outset, as well as the combination play between Ivan Sanchez and Maxime Colin, which led to Scott Hogan’s goal in the 1-0 win.

Sanchez and Colin have huge potential as a right-sided pairing, because they are both intelligent, technical and have good movement – I sometimes feel like we have not seen as much of them as we might have done because Karanka has at times had this team on a leash.

Again, understandable up to a point, because it was a defensive horror-show every week after the restart last season and we could have been in another final day showdown against the drop were it not for Wigan’s points deduction.

That said, I’m inclined to think there’s a bit more to come from this squad because all our recruits have improved us.

Neil Etheridge has had the odd error but he’s made more than enough good saves to make up for that, George Friend has brought organisational qualities to our rear-guard while Mikel San Jose – whether at centre-back or as a deep-lying playmaker – offers the class and composure you’d expect from a former Spain international.

Sanchez I’ve already mentioned and Hogan has excellent goalscoring instincts, though both he and target man Lukas Jutkiewicz have limitations which means we have similar dilemmas up top to yourselves post-Hugill, pre-Riis.

Embed from Getty Images

I like loanee Riley McGree, who brings direct running in an advanced midfield role, though Karanka seems to like more control and nous in the attacking midfield role, which he tends to get from Jon Toral and Alen Halilovic.

With the quality in place – and I’d put Jeremie Bela in that category – I feel like we have the ingredients to go up a few more gears and impose ourselves with more performances like the one on Teesside.

If we do that between now and the end of the season, I’ll be more than happy to take a step back and give Karanka my full backing… but I don’t want us to be in the same position in 12 months time.

The omens aren’t great for Wednesday, given that we’ve got the second-worst home record in the division and your lot have the fifth-best on the road… so I’ll reluctantly go with 2-1 to yourselves, but hopefully the lads prove me wrong!

All the best to North End for the rest of the season and keep up the top content on From the Finney.


I think this could be a very interesting game from a tactical point of view and we will more than likely see a strong team out again. Hopefully, that results in a difference in performance from our weekend outing in Bristol.

I fully expect Ben Whiteman to start again after his impressive debut. I thought he dictated the play very effectively, especially in the latter stages of the first half and into the second half. The new signing dropped very deep almost playing as a third centre-half at times in order to get the ball from deep and play forward which is something we miss without Paul Gallagher.

I do think there will be a change up front Emil Riis finally starting a game again. He has the ability to stretch a game and with the last few performances being a little bit stale up at top end of the pitch, we may need to stretch the game from the off.

Embed from Getty Images

It would also be interesting to see Ben Whiteman’s passing range being used to Riis’ advantage as he’s looked at his best when playing off the shoulder of the last defender and running in behind.

For a starting XI, I think I will go with: Iversen; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Hughes; Whiteman, Molumby; Barkhuizen, Browne, Sinclair; Riis.

I think the midfield partnership of Molumby and Whiteman could complement each other very well and it also allows Alan Browne the opportunity to play higher up the pitch in the number 10 role and link with Emil Riis.

I think Emil desperately needs game time to be able to develop and the way he stretches the game is something I don’t believe any other striker at the club really offers. 

As for a scoreline, I’m going to be positive as we’re due a win especially away from home. I’m going to go with a 1-3 away win, similar to that of September 2017 which was a great away day for many North End fans.

Don’t forget to listen to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast, available now on the majority of major streaming platforms. Or, just press play below. We’re also on twitter here – @fromthefinney.