Preston North End travel to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on Huddersfield Town on Saturday, knowing that a win would be vital to their play-off ambitions.
It also represents their third game in seven days. Alex Neil spoke honestly before the restart about the effect that playing Saturday-midweek four weeks in a row would have on the side, and it seems a strange decision from the powers that be not to have the week gap between matches positioned later on.
You would expect changes to again be made for this one, although perhaps not as many as the five that were introduced against Derby County on Wednesday.
That game highlighted North End’s need to improve in front of goal, with Brad Potts’s curling effort early in the second their only shot on target. Derby, it is worth mentioning, had only three, including Wayne Rooney’s pinpoint free-kick that represented the game’s only goal.
In the second half against Derby, although there was little in terms of end product, North End were certainly more encouraging in the way they kept the ball and moved it around. Lack of match sharpness has been an issue for clubs in the early weeks since the restart but as more games are played, that sharpness will quickly return.
With Wednesday’s result in mind, PNE will be desperate to grab three points to re-establish themselves as key play-off contenders. Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield can get themselves further away from the bottom three with three points. Let’s hope for a cracker.
Karlan Grant’s penalty to open the scoring for Town on Wednesday evening was his 18th goal of what has been an impressive season for the former Charlton frontman.
He mostly plays as a lone striker in Cowley’s system but has also operated on the left-hand side, cutting inside onto his right foot, and has been equally effective in both positions. His pace is a real threat for any opposition, and his scoring record speaks for itself. If Huddersfield are to avoid the drop from this division, Grant will have played a key part.
Cowley has only had one window in which to improve his side, but the signing of left-back Harry Toffolo from Lincoln City seems to be a shrewd piece of business. The 24-year-old, who was named Lincoln’s Away Player of the Year despite missing the last two months of the season, has adapted impressively to the second division of English football.
Toffolo has performed strongly going forward this season, providing three assists and scoring once in 13 appearances, and is also adept from dead-ball situations.
He provided the cross for Fraizer Campbell to score Town’s second goal of the night against Birmingham, and his free-kick indirectly led to the third, scored by Elias Kachunga.
The third player North End need to keep an eye on is Arsenal loanee, Emile Smith Rowe.
It was seen as something of a coup to bring Smith Rowe to the John Smith’s Stadium in January, the creative midfielder having featured heavily in Arsenal’s successful Europa League group campaign under Unai Emery last season. He also had a spell at German giants RB Leipzig on loan.
Smith Rowe is rated highly by the staff at Huddersfield, with the recently departed head of football David Webb tipping him to have “a really good career in the Premier League”. He provides a strong threat going forward, with quick feet and good technical ability. Another Huddersfield player that is capable of playing in different positions, the 19-year-old has featured both as a number ten and on the left of midfield this campaign.
For this opposition view, we have Brady of Huddersfield Town fan-run website, And He Takes That Chance. You can find Brady on twitter here – @brady0894. And you can also find the website’s twitter here – @takesthatchance.
Our season so far hasn’t been good enough really. To be seven games into the season and only have one point, from the game at QPR was worrying. I think I can speak for most Huddersfield fans when I say that ‘doing a Sunderland’ seemed a real possibility and still is. We’ve been playing catch up ever since really and that’s why our season has been so bad.
The Cowley brothers have come in and even though we’re still around the relegation zone, they’ve made us competitive and that’s what we wanted so badly from the lacklustre side at the start of the season. We still throw in bad performances now and again, but I think that’s to be expected given how much of a battering we had last season in the Premier League, it zaps your confidence.
I was pleased when we got the Cowleys because they were my first choice. Young and upcoming managers who engaged with the fanbases of whichever club they went to, and had the success as well. Their job this season has been to consolidate the team and if you started the table since they joined, we’d be 12th in the league. I hope they can push on next season and I’m confident they will if we stay up, but that’s a big if at the moment with the teams around us putting up a strong fight.
Since we last played North End, there’s been a lot of change. All form is out of the window now, but before the league paused, Town picked up 14 points in the last ten games, putting them 13th in the form table. The restart back hasn’t been great, with defeats to Wigan and Nottingham Forest, it’s not so much the results it’s how we played, being the architects of our downfall by giving easy opportunities for our opponents to capitalise on.
Wednesday’s 3-0 win against Birmingham gave our fans a much-needed boost for the relegation run-in, but Birmingham didn’t turn up. Still, you have to beat what’s in front of you.
Our January business has helped the side, shifting players with bad attitudes and added quality. We’ve picked up Richard Stearman on a free, who was fantastic before lockdown but has a been a bit ropey at times since the restart. Left-back Harry Toffolo has come from the Cowley’s old club Lincoln and has looked like a shrewd signing, great for an overlap.
The best signing was Arsenal loanee, Emile Smith Rowe. He has brought the flair and creativity that we so desperately needed and he certainly won’t be in the Championship next season, what a player.
Huddersfield never make it easy for themselves and I expect the end of the season to be no different. I was worried that we were going to drop like a stone after the first two games given how bad we played, but the game against Birmingham has offered hope that we can push on.
Our run-in includes teams that on paper have nothing to play for, including Reading and Sheffield Wednesday so I’m hoping we can pick up points there. We’re capable of putting in some shocking performances and I think there will be one or two more to come, but we’re also capable of putting good performances like against Birmingham and I think we’ll put another good performance or two in our last six games.
I think Huddersfield will stay up by the skin of our teeth. Danny Cowley has talked all season about reaching the magic 50 point mark which will keep us safe and we need just five points to hit that target, which I think we will. We have the quality and even though we have been awful at times there’s been three teams worse than us this season. Ultimately, it’s in Town’s hands and if we don’t perform in these six games then we don’t deserve to stay up.
For our XI on Saturday, unless there are any injury concerns, I’d be surprised if it’s not the same as the one that took the pitch against Birmingham to help build some momentum.
I think it will be a 4-2-3-1 as follows: Jonas Lössl; Harry Toffolo, Christopher Schindler (c), Richard Stearman, Demeaco Duhaney; Lewis O’Brien, Jonathan Hogg; Karlan Grant, Emile Smith Rowe, Elias Kachunga; Fraizer Campbell.
Fraizer put in his best performance of the season on Wednesday, stretched the defence and got his goal. I think him being a nuisance up front will help. The only changes I can see are because of the number of games we’ve got in a short space of time, so don’t be surprised if Steve Mounie comes in up front to battle for some aerial duels.
Elias Kachunga has not performed great this season at right wing but offers good defensive cover. We’ve now got the young Demeaco Duhaney at right-back following the club’s decision to get rid of Danny Simpson, so Chris Willock could come in for Kachunga if we wanted to go more attacking but I’d be surprised if he starts.
It’s hard to predict the score, especially after lockdown. Given the circumstances for this season, we’ve not really seen the Cowleys’ style, they seem to watch how the first 15 minutes of the game go and adapt where necessary.
We always struggle against Preston, especially away but this game’s at home and the midweek result against Birmingham has made me a bit more optimistic. Plus, you guys haven’t been in great form since the restart either.
Preston can roughhouse teams and our centre backs don’t like it, especially Christopher Schindler who has taken a few whacks this season, so I don’t think we’ll keep a clean sheet.
It’s all about who gets the first goal for me, if we start quickly like we did against Birmingham and take the lead, it depends whether you guys fancy it really, not if we have the quality to blow you away. If you get the first goal, I think it’s going to be difficult for us. I think it’d be 1-1 and I’d snap your hand off for anything more.
Huddersfield were impressive in their 3-0 dismantling of Birmingham on Wednesday, which could have been even more. That being said, they have failed to mount any sort of consistency this season and sit just three points above the drop zone.
A win for PNE would be crucial. Only four points separate us from sixth-placed Cardiff, and three points on Saturday, coupled with a good performance, could be the confidence boost they need to bounce back into those play-off places.
I’m going for a 2-1 victory for PNE.
In terms of the starting XI, don’t be surprised if Neil again makes changes given the fixture list congestion. Josh Harrop made a difference on Wednesday and Tom Barkhuizen also had a positive effect, so both players could have a bigger involvement on Saturday.
Potts had a good evening, following two sharp cameos off the bench since the restart, and I would expect him to keep his place unless Daniel Johnson is back to full fitness. Ben Pearson’s substitution with an apparent knock is a concern, though hopefully, his early withdrawal wasn’t a result of any serious injury. If he isn’t declared fit, Ryan Ledson could come into the side.
There will, of course, be one enforced change after Paul Huntington’s FA charge for violent conduct during the Derby clash means he’ll miss the next three games. I’ll go for this XI: Rudd; Rafferty, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Potts, Harrop; Maguire.
Let us know what you think about the game, how we will get on and a score prediction on twitter – @fromthefinney.
Finally, you can listen to the midweek episode of the podcast below. The lads were joined by Neil Mellor who of course, was part of the last North End side to make the Championship play-offs.