Preston North End go into Saturday’s clash against Blackburn at Ewood Park looking to put to an end a five-game winless run in all competitions. It’s a game which away fans turn up for in their droves – had there not been a delay to the release of lower-tier tickets, North End would most likely have already sold out their allocation.
So an away attendance of at least 6,000 is expected. A big away following at Rovers is a common occurrence whenever PNE travel across the M65 to a side considered their major rivals in this division.
Alex Neil’s side will be boosted, of course, by the signing of Scott Sinclair from Celtic. The 30-year-old former Chelsea and Manchester City winger has joined the Lilywhites on a two and a half year deal and could make his debut at Ewood Park.
Meanwhile, Blackburn will be without star man Bradley Dack for the long-term. The midfielder recently had surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament injury that will see him miss most of 2020.
However, North End should welcome back a number of faces. The likes of Alan Browne, Paul Gallagher and Sean Maguire were all rested for the FA Cup defeat to Norwich last weekend.
Rovers could also see several first-team players back in action, with Ryan Nyambe, Lewis Holtby and Danny Graham all back in training following spells out with injury. Corry Evans joins that list, whilst captain Elliott Bennett could make a return after he was substituted in the first half in the 2-1 defeat at Birmingham in the FA Cup.
One of the main threats for Rovers is frontman Adam Armstrong.
The 22-year-old scored five goals in his first full season since joining the club from Newcastle, mainly from out wide. This season, however, he has six goals already from 26 appearances.
Three of those have come in his last seven games, whilst he also scored the equaliser against Birmingham, before Jeremie Bela’s late goal consigned Rovers to defeat. He is equally comfortable on the flanks and upfront, with Tony Mowbray preferring to play him on the right-hand side of attack.
Armstrong is a player North End have shown interest in before, and stopping him will be one of PNE’s tasks in order to secure a positive result.
The second danger man for Rovers is former Premier League veteran Stewart Downing.
Downing, now 35, has been one of Mowbray’s key players this season since joining on a free transfer from Middlesbrough in the summer. He has shown his versatility in different scenarios for Rovers – he started the season out wide but has also covered at left-back on occasion following injuries to Derrick Williams and Greg Cunningham.
Downing played in central midfield in the New Years’ Day defeat at Nottingham Forest, scoring Rovers’ first goal in an eventual 3-2 defeat. That doubled his goal tally for the season, whilst the former Liverpool winger has four assists.
The third danger man for Rovers is midfielder Lewis Travis.
The 22-year-old academy graduate has played 24 games for the club this season, forming a solid partnership at the heart of the midfield with Corry Evans, and recently Bradley Johnson.
Travis was on the bench for the reverse fixture against North End at Deepdale in October but was immediately restored to the starting lineup for the following game against Sheffield Wednesday, which Rovers won. He has started every league game bar one since then.
He combines strong tackling ability with good physical attributes as well and signed a long-term deal with the club in the summer.
To sum our season up as a single word; inconsistent.
An average couple of opening months were followed by a tough October where we went without a victory, and many were calling for Tony Mowbray’s head.
However, there was a sudden resurgence where we lost just one match in ten. This run included impressive wins over Brentford at home and especially Bristol City away. After all this, we were only out the top six on goal difference.
We’re now four league matches without a victory, and suddenly some people want Tony to leave again.
I’m happy with where we are at the moment, and I think we’ll probably finish where we are now unless we pull out some impressive business during this window – but I won’t hold my breath.
We’ve got a squad that I feel can compete with the top ten or so in this division, so I’d take a top-half finish currently. It’s all about building on your previous efforts, and that kind of finish would show progress.
In terms of my starting XI prediction for Saturday, it’s a tough one because we’ve five players that could come back into contention, so any XI is kind of guesswork. I’ll go for: Walton; Nyambe, Lenihan, Adarabioyo, Williams; Travis, Johnson, Rothwell; Holtby, Armstrong, Gallagher.
In terms of the scoreline, I think it’ll be a cagey affair and I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw.
It’s a game that North End fans look for on the calendar every season, and this time the atmosphere should be at fever pitch.
PNE have been on a difficult run recently in the league but they still sit in 10th position in the league, just two points off the play-offs. The signing of Scott Sinclair and his expected debut on Saturday will only add to the anticipation for this one.
Bradley Dack will be a big miss for Rovers – he has nine goals and one assist for the season – but they still have other threats across the pitch. North End won on their last trip to Blackburn, winning 1-0 thanks to an early Daniel Johnson strike after a Lukas Nmecha assist.
I back Alex Neil’s men to make it two wins in a row at Ewood Park. My prediction for the game is: Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Preston North End. In terms of the starting XI, I predict the following: Rudd; Clarke, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Browne, Sinclair; Maguire.
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