Preston North End travel to the Valley early on Sunday morning to take on Charlton Athletic knowing a win will, at least temporarily, take them to the top of the Championship table for the first time since December 2006.
Paul Simpson’s charges drew 1-1 with Coventry back then to take them top, but PNE then suffered consecutive away defeats to Luton Town and Birmingham. They would never recover to the top of the standings that season, and of course, missed out on a play-off place on the final day.
Alex Neil will become the first Lilywhites boss since Simpson to achieve the same feat if North End can down Charlton on Sunday, but as is often the cliché in football, it is only the position you end the season in that counts.
Nevertheless, Neil’s men have had a positive start to this season, last weekend’s thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Blackburn Rovers putting them into the top two by the close of the weekend and Monday night fixtures.
The Charlton game is just another game in what is a 46 game season and this North End side do not need to reach the summit of the table at this point to know that they can challenge – the confidence in some of their performances is showing that already. Tom Barkhuizen is a player who we highlighted in Episode #20 of the From the Finney podcast as easily being the player of the month for us with 4 goals to his name in the league in 5 games.
Charlton, managed by former player Lee Bowyer, have themselves had a good start to this season’s Championship. Promoted via the League One play-offs last season, many expected the Addicks to struggle in their first campaign back in the second tier. However, 22 points from their opening 14 games sees them sitting in ninth position.
Their form over the last eight games has been patchy, with only two wins coming in that time. However, the manner of the two wins and the teams which they came against got a lot of people talking. They defeated Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds – the side that Bowyer made over 200 appearances for as a player – thanks to Macauley Bonne’s first-half opener and breezed past Derby 3-0.
Both those victories came at the Valley, and four out of their six wins this season have come in front of their own fans. Bowyer’s side have only lost once there, a 2-1 defeat to high-flying Swansea at the beginning of October.
The Addicks lost 2-1 to Bristol City a week ago, before a highly impressive 2-2 draw at top of the table West Brom, where a 93rd minute Josh Cullen penalty was enough to take a share of the points away from the Hawthorns.
North End come into this one having only lost once in the league since August. A 1-0 away defeat to Reading was a disappointing performance, Neil admitting as much in his post-match press conference, saying that it “was as poor as we have moved the ball”.
They recovered with an excellent 1-1 draw with Leeds at Deepdale, Tom Barkhuizen’s opener cancelled out late on in the game by substitute Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s late, looping header over a stranded Declan Rudd.
There was most recently, of course, that 3-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. It was a nightmare opening 11 minutes as first an own goal from Declan Rudd followed by a fine left-footed strike from Sam Gallagher meant the visitors raced into a two-goal lead. However, Alex Neil’s side fought back brilliantly in the second half and 2 goals from Tom Barkhuizen and another Daniel Johnson penalty ensured we went on to claim all three points.
There was more good news in the week as Billy Bodin agreed a new deal that runs until 2021, and there is hope that Ben Davies, who missed Saturday’s derby clash after failing a late fitness test, will slot back into North End’s back four this weekend.
The best place to start here would be with striker Macauley Bonne,who has netted four goals in his last four starts for Bowyer’s side.
After an injury to leading marksman Lyle Taylor in September, Bonne has stepped up to the plate and made a starting position his own. His first league start began in perfect fashion, Bonne scoring the opener in the 1-0 win over Leeds at the Valley.
After failing to find the net in the subsequent defeat to Swansea, he has found the net with alarming regularity, and now has five goals in eight Championship appearances after his summer move from Leyton Orient.
Another player to watch out for is Chelsea loanee, Conor Gallagher. The 19-year-old midfielder has earned rave reviews both at the Valley and back at his parent club, with rumours around that he may be able to force his way into Frank Lampard’s plans next season.
He has five goals from midfield this campaign, matching the tally of forwards Bonne and Taylor, and was also recently promoted into the England U21 squad for the friendlies against Slovenia and Austria, after impressing at U20 level.
The pick of the goals came against Derby, when he picked the ball up from range and netted from 25 yards en route to a 3-0 victory for his side.
Former Brighton midfielder Beram Kayal is establishing himself in this Charlton side after a spell out through injury and is another player to watch.
The Israeli international started his first game for the club in the defeat to Bristol City and was restricted to just four minutes of action against West Brom last weekend.
But the 31-year-old has plenty of Premier League and SPL experience with the Seagulls and Celtic and his quality on the ball could be a key asset if he does get the nod to either start the game or come off the bench against North End on Sunday.
This week’s opposition view comes to you from Charlton fan, Freddie Saunders. You can follow him on twitter here – @ValleyFloydFred.
Charlton will be going into this game ready to compete and set out to take all three points after a battling performance against West Brom, where the Addicks rescued a point, thanks to a 94th-minute penalty, superbly taken by Josh Cullen.
Despite the fact that many bookies and other Championship clubs’ fans had marked Charlton for the drop, with some predicting that the Addicks would finish rock bottom, they have taken their winning mentality and positive form from the third tier to the second tier seamlessly.
Lee Bowyer continues to impress on a shoestring budget, relying on the astute selection of loan signings and free agents, his league win rate as a manager sits at an impressive 54%. Across the 2019 calendar year, the Addicks have been averaging 2 points per game, with only Manchester City and Liverpool doing better across all four tiers. After 14 games, Charlton find themselves in 9th, within the chasing pack of the top six, sitting a shy 3 points off Preston in second, and 5 points off West Brom in first.
Unfortunately, the treatment room at Sparrows Lane has an orderly queue forming, with Bowyer being unable to consider: Lewis Page, Sam Field, Ben Amos, Jonny Williams, Adam Matthews, Jake Forster-Caskey or George Lapslie.
Lyle Taylor is a doubt after Bowyer stated in his press conference on Friday morning, that there had been a “set back”, but whether or not this means Taylor will not be part of the matchday squad, specifically on the bench, remains to be seen. Bowyer tends to be calculated when it comes to the information he funnels to the press, and no doubt the manager is looking at the big south London derby on the 9th November, where Charlton look to finally beat Millwall for the first time since 1996.
Tomer Hemed who joined from Brighton in the summer after a deliberation by the EFL board to approve it, has failed to impress The Valley faithful yet this season, but could feature on the bench on Sunday.
I would expect the starting XI for the Addicks to look like (3-5-2) this: Dillon Phillips; Naby Sarr, Jason Pearce, Tom Lockyer; (RWB) Chris Solly, (LWB) Ben Purrington; Darren Pratley, Josh Cullen, Conor Gallagher; Jonathan Leko, Macauley Bonne
Players to look out for are Conor Gallagher, who is currently experiencing an impressive senior debut with Charlton after winning Academy Player of the Year at Chelsea last season. Macauley Bonne who has risen to the occasion since Taylor’s injury, proving that he can take the goal-scoring form he had with Leyton Orient in non-league to the second tier of English football. Finally, Josh Cullen, who can only be described as the Rolls-Royce of our midfield.
I think the Addicks will take all three points on Saturday. Charlton’s home performances continue to be impressive, losing only three times at home since October 2018. Preston’s form on the road is not as impressive as their performances at the Deepdale, our three at the back keeping your forwards quiet will be key. I’m going for 2-1 Charlton.
Finally, Charlton will be welcoming their Wembley hero, Patrick Bauer, back to The Valley since he scored our 94th minute winner against Sunderland, which created the highest of highs and cemented a memory that many fans will never forget, just like we still don’t forget Clive Mendonca’s performance against Sunderland at Old Wembley in 1998! He will definitely receive a positive reception.
Given that Charlton are a strong force at home this season, there is no doubt this will be a challenging encounter for North End.
If they can carry on where they left off in terms of performance level from the second half of the Blackburn win, however, I am confident they will secure a positive result. It feels like the sort of game where the first goal will be key as to who wins, and I’m going for a 1-0 win for Alex Neil’s men.
As far as the predicted XI goes, I would expect the team to be similar to the one that started Saturday’s win, apart from potentially bringing back injured players. Ben Davies will of course slot straight back in if fully fit, and it will be between Browne and Gallagher you would imagine, in terms of who plays alongside Ben Pearson.
I’m opting for a Nugent return but again that is fitness depending, otherwise, I can see Jayden Stockley promoted to a start after his excellent performance on Saturday.
Also, my XI would look something like this in our typical 4-2-3-1: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Maguire; Nugent.
A final note, Episode #20 of the From the Finney Podcast is out now. We had a fan guest on in the shape of Stuart Pilkington (@Pilks1990) and we looked back over the month of October. If you would like to be on the pod, slide into our DMs on twitter (@FromtheFinney) and we can sort something out.