A trip to the Welsh capital is up next for Alex Neil as his team face Mick McCarthy’s in-form Cardiff City side. The Bluebirds have been transformed since the appointment of the former Republic of Ireland manager, going on an unbeaten run of six games, after losing six games in a row before McCarthy’s appointment.
During the current six-game unbeaten run, Cardiff have won all four games this month which has given them real hope of making a late run for the play-offs. Cardiff fans will agree that if they slightly improve their home form, there’s no reason why they should be ruled out of contention for the top six.
This match-up could prove crucial to North End if they have any sort of hope of reaching the play-offs. A disappointing performance against promotion-hunting Watford means Alex Neil’s men sit 10 points off sixth-placed Bournemouth with 16 games to go, and a loss in South Wales could potentially see North End’s very faint play-off hopes demolished for another season.
The first player I would like to highlight as a key danger is Cardiff’s man in form, Kieffer Moore. The Welshman has been in fine form since the arrival of Mick McCarthy with five goals in the six games during McCarthy’s tenure so far.
We were apparently interested in the former Wigan Athletic striker, but a high price tag put us off pursuing the Welsh international in the past. Nevertheless, 13 goals this season with 16 games left to go, is a very impressive record, and for the £2 million that Cardiff paid for Moore, it looks to be a great deal that North End missed out on.
Secondly, I would like to pick out Harry Wilson as potential trouble for North End on Saturday afternoon. The winger, who is on loan from the current Premier League champions England Liverpool, has managed 12 goal contributions this campaign, four of them coming since the arrival of Mick McCarthy.
Wilson has been a proven success at this level before and he is very highly regarded for having a “wand of a left foot” and he’s absolutely not afraid to use it from range. He’s scored his fair share of screamers whilst on loan at Derby County in the season they reached the play-off final and he has even shown his quality in the top division of English football whilst on loan at Bournemouth.
After scoring last time out against Luton Town, the Welshman will be looking to build on his recent form to maintain his place in the Bluebirds’ starting XI and grab some more goals and assists to add to his record for the campaign.
First things first, if anyone is thinking that this is a guaranteed three points, that is not the case by any stretch of the imagination. Cardiff are knocking on the door of the play-offs after what has proven to be a very successful change of manager, and have been in good form.
Many supporters seemed very angry after the midweek loss to Watford, and whilst it was a very deflating and disappointing performance, Watford are a very resilient side with Premier League players and I think in times such as what we’re experiencing now, it is very easy to lose some perspective. We defended very well against the likes of Ismaïla Sarr who was signed for a fee in the region of £30 million and only lost the game due to a spot-kick from 12 yards.
I don’t think it can be stressed enough about the period of transition the club is going through, and fixtures against teams who are 4th in the form table, is a very tough ask to expect three points. In saying that, Cardiff’s home form has let them down this season and with Alex Neil’s men being the 4th best away side in the league, there is absolutely room for an “upset” this weekend.
As I’ve previously mentioned, our newly formed defence has been very impressive so far with Liam Lindsay and Jordon Storey in particular, impressing in the last two outings. This will be put to the test this weekend, but I do fancy Liam Lindsay in a physical battle against Kieffer Moore despite the Welshman’s impressive form of late.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see changes in the midfield with possibly Jason Molumby being pushed further forward in order to try and create more opportunities. We were very stale in midweek which is something we’ve seen far too many times at Deepdale this season.
I think we will see a return to the 3-5-2 system as Alex Neil seems to be more confident playing that formation away from home. As for a starting XI, I’m going to go with: Iversen; Storey, Lindsay, Hughes; Browne (RWB), Whiteman, Johnson, Molumby, Cunningham (LWB); Evans, Sinclair.
I personally would like to see Scott Sinclair playing in a front two with Ched Evans, with Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham operating as wing-backs, replicating the system used to perfection at Ewood Park a fortnight ago.
Finally, for the scoreline, I’m going to go for a hopeful 2-2 draw. I think we do have what it takes to get a result at the Cardiff City Stadium, but it is a big ask for this side. We are playing in a relentless schedule and the expectations from some sections of the fans that the players should gel straight away are unreasonable, in my opinion. They need time, as does the manager.
I think the game will be a lot more eventful than last season’s 0-0 draw in the Welsh capital that was live on Sky Sports. Cardiff haven’t had a 0-0 draw since the 3rd October, and hopefully, the Lilywhites will put in a performance that proves that this tough transition period, does indeed have a positive end in sight.
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