We seem to have had more international breaks than PNE have had away goals this season, but the latest sequence of national team matches are over and we’re now back into the ‘proper stuff’. the league action.

Alex Neil’s men face a difficult trip to Pride Park and Derby County this weekend. The scene of North End’s last triumph at the ground was in 2008, a goal from Neil Mellor and a brace from Karl Hawley sealing a 4-1 FA Cup fourth-round win in the early days of Alan Irvine’s reign.

Embed from Getty Images

The Rams have had a difficult time of it this season and currently sit in 16th place after a 1-0 derby day defeat to Nottingham Forest last time out.

That league position perhaps doesn’t reflect the quality that Phillip Cocu’s side possesses, a mixture of poor form and off-field events playing their part in Derby’s struggles thus far this season. Having said that, their home form (15 points from eight games) is the sixth-best in the league, Cocu’s men only tasting defeat once in front of their home fans.

North End will be hoping to double that number, coming off the back of impressive wins over Charlton and Huddersfield before the international break. Alex Neil will be hopeful of welcoming back top scorer Daniel Johnson to the squad after he missed the win over the Terriers with an injury picked up against Charlton Athletic just before the international break.

Recent Form

Derby’s recent form is mixed, having recorded two wins and three losses in their last five Championship games. They were defeated 3-0 by Lee Bowyer’s Charlton at the Valley, before bouncing back with a 1-0 home win over Wigan. That result was followed by a 2-0 loss at Hull City, Jarrod Bowen scoring two late goals to down Cocu’s side.

The home-away pattern has continued since, a 2-0 home win over Middlesbrough followed by that defeat to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. Victory over Middlesbrough represented one of the Rams’ better performances this season, racking up 10 shots on target as winger Tom Lawrence netted a brace.

North End, of course, have had a more positive and consistent run of results so far this season. An impressive performance led to a 1-1 home draw against Leeds, Eddie Nketiah’s late header cancelling out Tom Barkhuizen’s second-half opener.

Embed from Getty Images

That was followed by a 3-2 win against Blackburn – Neil’s men coming from 2-0 down inside the opening 11 minutes – before an accomplished 1-0 victory at Charlton in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

They concluded their run of games leading into the international break with a 3-1 win over Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield, the ex-Lincoln boss having been given the Manager of the Month award just days prior to the game at Deepdale for the Terriers’ good form.

Potential Dangers

One of Derby’s biggest dangers, undoubtedly, is Welsh international winger Tom Lawrence. He has had off-field issues to deal with this season but his output on the pitch has been excellent recently with five goals making him the club’s top league goalscorer this campaign.

He netted a brace in the 2-0 victory over Hull and also scored in the home win over Luton. Lawrence can use both feet and cut inside effectively, whilst his set piece delivery also represents a danger.

The Rams made Polish international Krystian Bielik their potential record signing in the summer when they paid Arsenal a reported £8m plus add-ons for the 21-year-old. Primarily a centre-half, Bielik has played the majority of the season in defensive midfield.

He has steadily improved as he has grown accustomed to the Championship, and his size and physicality could present North End with some problems on Saturday. Given Matt Clarke’s injury & subsequent status as doubtful for the game, there is every chance that Bielik could slot into central defence alongside captain Curtis Davies.

Embed from Getty Images

19-year-old Jayden Bogle missed the early part of the season with an injury suffered in the 0-0 home draw with Swansea City in August but has helped spark an upturn in Derby’s form since his return. The young right-back impressed under Frank Lampard last season and is increasingly becoming one of Derby’s most valuable players this season.

He is one of the quickest full-backs in the league, whilst his defensive game is developing as well. Since his return, he has contributed to four clean sheets in seven starts.

Whoever wins the battle between Bogle and whoever Alex Neil elects to play down North End’s left-hand side, likely Sean Maguire, could make all the difference on Saturday.

Opposition View

This week’s opposition view comes to you from Rams’ fan, Chris. Chris is from the Steve Bloomer’s Washing podcast. You can find the pod on Soundcloud and can follow them on twitter too – @SteveBloomerPod. Without further ado, let’s get into it…

Derby’s season started brightly at Huddersfield, giving hope that Phillip Cocu would hit the ground running in his first English managerial role. However, the return of familiar woes (defending set pieces and crosses), combined with *those* off-field drink-drive problems, has hindered any momentum and left Derby firmly midtable.

Cocu’s biggest challenges have been out of his hands – filling gaps left by Mount, Wilson and Tomori, and losing the influential Richard Keogh – but his own signings are also yet to hit top form. Throw in the expectancy to blood Derby’s promising youngsters into the first XI and it’s clear that Derby’s ‘Dutch Revolution’ may be a slow burner rather than a one-season success story.

Embed from Getty Images

Much of Derby’s potential this season appears to be increasingly dependant on Wayne Rooney, and whether he’s still got the legs and desire to make a final impression on English football. If England’s greatest marksman is up for one last job, maybe Derby’s 19/20 season might not be ‘transitional’ after all.

Possible starting XI (4-4-2 diamond): Roos; Bogle, Davies, Bielik, Lowe; Evans; Shinnie, Holmes; Lawrence; Martin, Marriott.

My score prediction is 1-1. I have Derby down to take the lead but I think we will be denied a fifth straight home win in the end.

Predictions

On paper, this is a difficult challenge for North End, given the fact that regardless of form, you always expect Derby to be able to pull out a performance given the quality of their squad. Their home performances have been good, and they were of course just one game away from reaching the Premier League last season.

But North End are high on confidence and in good form to go with it. We will be buoyed further by the positive performances of Republic of Ireland duo Alan Browne and Sean Maguire on international duty, the latter who bagged his first goal for his country in a friendly game against New Zealand.

North End will hopefully welcome back Daniel Johnson and I feel North End will have the quality to take their first victory at Pride Park in all competitions in 11 years. My prediction for the game is – Derby 0-2 Preston North End.

Alex Neil could make several changes for this game too. Ben Pearson will slot back into the side after suspension ruled out him out of the Charlton clash. That would mean that Ryan Ledson would make way, whilst I think Johnson would come back in for Paul Gallagher if he is passed fit.

David Nugent could also feature against the club that released him last summer. My XI prediction is as follows: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Browne, Maguire; Nugent.

Finally, if you haven’t yet listened, Episode #3 of From the Finney Meets… is out now to be streamed. Jake sat down with former North End forward Neil Mellor to chat about his time at the club. You can listen to the episode below.