Match Preview: Blackburn Rovers vs. Preston North End
I suspect that when we head to Ewood Park this Saturday for a mid-table clash against Blackburn Rovers, it will be one of, if not the toughest game we’ll have played during this excellent run of form we’ve been on recently. February Manager of the Month nominee Alex Neil takes his men down the M65 to face Tony Mowbray’s side who have had a somewhat mixed time of late.
Aside from the fact it’s a local derby, Rovers will be keen to avenge the 4-1 defeat they suffered at Deepdale back in November when they were well beaten by goals from Tom Barkhuizen, Callum Robinson, Alan Browne and Louis Moult. Deepdale was rocking that day and I suspect come midday on Saturday, the away end at Ewood will be bouncing too with over 7,000 North End fans travelling over to East Lancashire to support the boys.
Both sides come into this game on the back of a mixed season to date. North End started with that horrendous run at the start of the season which saw us with 1 win and 3 draws after our first 11 games, averaging 0.54 points per game. Rovers, on the other hand, started much brighter only losing 2 of their first 11 games and averaging 1.3 points per game. Not quite promotion numbers but a steady enough platform to build from for the rest of the season.
However, since then things have changed for both teams. Both have played 24 games since then with North End picking up 42 points, averaging 1.75 points per game, winning 11, drawing 9 and losing only 4. The best of that period is the current 9 game unbeaten run we are currently on that at one point looked like giving us an outside shot at making the top 6 but I feel that failure to beat Bristol City last weekend ultimately put a stop to that but, never say never. Rovers on the other hand, in the 24 games they have played since their opening 11 have picked up 29 points averaging 1.2 points per game, winning 8, drawing 5 and losing 11. Quite the contrast, really.
After failing to beat Bristol City last weekend, this is another chance to do our third ‘double’ over a team this season. Having already beaten QPR and Millwall home and away, Alex Neil’s men will be hoping to make it back to back wins over Rovers for the first time in a season since we’ve been back at the same level.
In terms of head to head, North End have had the better of Rovers in recent times. The two teams have played each other 5 times since 2015 when both sides were back in the Championship together and Rovers have only won one game whereas North End have won 3 and the two sides have drawn only 1 game, that coming to a last minute equaliser from Aiden McGeady for Simon Grayson’s North End side away at Ewood Park in March 2017.
Charlie Mulgrew has 10 goals this season which, for a defender, is great but he’s not been much of a threat from open play as he has no assists to his name and all of his goals have come from set-pieces, 5 penalties and 5 free-kicks. But, he’s not the only threat that Rovers have as many people know, Bradley Dack is one of their key men and many North End fans on social media haven’t let him forget about his rather abject performance at Deepdale earlier in the season.
Over the season so far, 73% of Rovers’ attacks have come from wide with only 27% coming down the middle but the majority of their shots from wide, 20%, have come from their left hand side so Darnell Fisher could be in for a tough afternoon if he retains his place in the side from the Bristol City game but Tom Clarke could be pushing him close if he is to recover from the knock that kept him out, especially after his performance and goal away at Millwall.
As usual, we have an opposition fan’s view on their side’s season so far and what they expect from the game and this time, we have @TalkofEwood from twitter with a lengthy piece for your consumption. Enjoy!
Weird. One word to describe Rovers’ return to the Championship. Weird in the sense that no one really knew what we were expecting at the start of the season, no one could wholeheartedly predict what our aim was come May; a relegation battle, a steady away mid-table finish or a thrilling play-off push, and judging from the performances we have been producing, I’m not sure even the players can decide what they want to achieve! We’ve had our good times – beating Leeds 2-1 at Ewood, finding ourselves 3-0 up after 47 minutes away to Stoke – yet with the good, comes the bad – a 4-1 away loss to yourselves and Bristol City respectively, a 3-0 away loss to Wigan and most recently the consistent crumble of our defence, usually in the last quarter of games. On paper, with the likes of Charlie Mulgrew, Darragh Lenihan and Jack Rodwell commanding the back 4 you’d think it would be fairly sound. It isn’t. It weirdly isn’t.
Some of the recent mistakes are freakish, but they keep happening. It’s a growing concern amongst the Rovers fans, and a situation our glass half full manager Tony Mowbray even called ‘pathetic’ last week. I recently came across a statistic on Twitter that reinforces our tremendously bad defending as the 90 minutes peeter out, no one had conceded more second half goals than Rovers have in conceding 40, yet funnily enough, the team closest to that is your lot, Preston, who’d conceded 36 goals in the second half. On paper, it should be some second half on Saturday!
We don’t struggle in attack; Bradley Dack the catalyst, Adam Armstrong the spark, Danny Graham the finisher. That’s the usual, with the likes of Amari’i Bell, Harrison Reed, Ben Brereton, Joe Rothwell, Joe Nuttall, Craig Conway, Elliott Bennett, and most surprisingly to outsiders centre back Charlie Mulgrew all helping out when required. When in anger, fans describe it as a long ‘punt’ forward in hope of success, but I see a tactic we use as a thought through, direct tactic of playing the diagonal; ball from either centre back, up to Danny Graham, who likes to either hold it up and give it to Bradley Dack, or flick it on to the liked of Armstrong, Bell, Nyambe or Reed out wide. It’s not always going to be effective, it’s not always going to work, but when it does it works so, so well. Simple, but effective.
As much as Dack is the main man in our attack, it’s Danny Graham who’s the real glue that keeps it all together, his presence, and street fighter attitude up front is second to none and frees up the space for Armstrong and Dack to excel.
As for the line-up, I genuinely don’t know. Mowbray has called for change, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what we saw. He’s spoken about the trust he’s shown in the promotion season players, but due to our recent dreadful form, he’s made it clear things may change. We usually follow a 4-2-3-1 formation to suit that of Bradley Dack who plays that number 10 role. But like I said, that all could change come Saturday, and a large part of me hopes it does. So, in terms of a starting XI, I don’t have a clue!
Now the score, that’s another one I can’t commit to. It depends which Rovers turn up. If January’s Rovers turn up, 3-0 to the home side, if February’s Rovers turn up, 4-0 to Preston! I’m going to go for 2-1 Rovers in the hope that change is going to come, and we sort ourselves out enough to pick up a much-needed win against you lot from down the M65!
So, as far as team selection, I suspect it will be much of the same from the past few games to be honest. As the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I wasn’t at the Bristol City game so I don’t know how we looked but I could maybe see Tom Barkhuizen coming back into the starting XI. His pace in recent away games, Millwall and Bolton to name a couple, has been really important to how we have played.
Obviously, the big miss will be Ben Pearson who sits this one out as the last of his two-game suspension but I suspect we will see Ryan Ledson filling in for him again, by all accounts he performed well on Saturday. In terms of score, I suspect the first half will be limited to maybe one or two goals either way but I feel we will win 3 or 4-1 with us scoring twice in the second half. How do you think we will get on and are you going to the game on Saturday? Give us a follow on twitter – @FromtheFinney and if you enjoyed this, don’t forget to share it, just hit the button below! 👇🏻