We go into this one on the back of a good result for the first time in a while after beating Ipswich Town 4-0 with relative ease at the start of the bank holiday weekend.
Wigan also come into this one on the back of a good result as well having played with 10-men for over 75 minutes against promotion-chasing Leeds United and coming out 2-1 winners after a double from Gavin Massey.
Heading into this one, it’s another opportunity for us to do the double over one of our local rivals this season and it’s also another chance for Alex Neil to keep up his record in local derbies too.
Wigan seem to have had a somewhat up and down season so far. They started excellently and were sitting 8th after 10 games. After the 1-0 defeat at Norwich at the end of September they went on a run of 2 wins and 3 draws in 15 games to the end of the year, that run including a 4-0 defeat at Deepdale, a game in which Darron Gibson got a straight red card for hacking down Ben Pearson, one of the only times as a North End fan I’ve someone else get a red for a challenge on Pearo, if not the only time.
In terms of head to head games, we’ve played each other at this level 3 times in recent years and North End have had the better of the ties with 2 wins and 1 draw and as we mentioned above, Alex Neil will be hoping to keep up his excellent record against local sides since he took charge at Deepdale.
Most of this season, Wigan had been setting up in a 4-2-3-1, Paul Cook has used it throughout his career, with the full-backs getting really high and the 3 playing behind the striker playing very narrow. Disastrous results away from home meant he switched things up a bit and went to a 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 with 3 centre backs, which gave them more stability against the top clubs, however, in most games they still go 4-2-3-1.
Reece James started season at right back but he’s quite simply that good that he’s been moved into central midfield alongside Sam Morsy which certainly makes for a very combative midfield 2 and James controls games and gets box to box very well.
The Wigan full-backs, usually Antonee Robinson at left back and Nathan Byrne right back are very attacking and very athletic, but they are a little suspect defensively. Further up the pitch, the 3 playing behind the striker are quite likely to roam freely and rotate often with the likes of Nick Powell, Lee Evans, Gavin Massey, Kai Naismith and Josh Windass all options for Paul Cook.
Up front, they’ve gone with Leon Clarke of late and tend to play more direct into him and then play off him. Generally though, the 4-2-3-1 leads to Wigan being quite patient in their build-up play with lots of rotation behind the opposition midfield and their full-backs getting high and attacking with plenty of width and getting a lot of players in the box.
On the subject of Reece James, he’s clearly one to watch and any North End fans at the game at Deepdale earlier in the season will remember how well he played at right-back for them, he was the standout player for Wigan on the day. He’s got the highest WhoScored rating of the whole Wigan squad this season and he’s top for key passes made per game out of the whole Wigan squad which, at 19 is some going for his first season at this level.
For this week’s opposition view, Wigan fan Chris has sent us through his thoughts on the Latics’ season to date. You can find him on twitter here – @eaststandchris.
This season has well and truly been a mixture of emotions!
Brilliant home form mixed with an away form which has seen us win just twice all season. Once in August and once in April. I can’t think of the last time we had a relaxing season where we weren’t either fighting for survival or promotion, it’s just the Wigan way.
On the back of such a brilliant promotion campaign, there was a lot of optimism around the club in summer, signings of players like Josh Windass and Joe Garner had Latics fans excited at the prospect of a high scoring attack force. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, injuries have plagued us this year to the point that in one game, I believe we played a left back, right back and a centre attacking mid as our front three.
Going into September we had been in dazzling form, we weren’t conceding and were free scoring with the pace of Jacobs and Massey, Nick Powell pulling the strings and Will Grigg doing what he does best. However, since then it’s been far from consistent.
Recently, with all of our injury issues it has become a game of bingo to guess the starting eleven and with this, Paul Cook has come under increasing pressure. I’m glad however that we haven’t followed the modern trend of getting rid of a manager and hoping that someone else can come in and make a change. Over the last few years, we have had a number of managerial changes and we have been screaming for some stability to be able to build from.
Off the field, there has also been quite a change this year too with IEC taking control of the club and our beloved Dave Whelan and family departing. I am a firm believer that takeover processes like this can have a real detrimental effect on your club in the short term. However, IEC are here now and hopefully, they will help us to build a platform to grow from again.
I think the model of clubs like Brentford and Preston are the way to move forward. When you look at the net spend of both clubs in comparison to other teams towards the top end of the table both have spent a significant amount less however have been really smart with their recruitment. Hopefully if we stay up this season we can start building on our foundations and try and bridge the gap to mid table by following a similar design. Hopefully this will also see us bring through some of our younger talent that has recently dominated their respective leagues, it has been a while since we had a standout breakthrough academy graduate. Young Callum Lang looks to be the next one who will get his chance after a great season on loan at Oldham this year.
It’s pretty clear if you ask any Wigan fan who our best player has been this year. A 19-year-old called Reece James on loan from Chelsea. Owning around 4 player of the months from the club this year, Reece is definitely one to watch. He has played right back, centre mid and even done a job at centre back. This kid has it all, speed, strength, composure and the ability to beat a man. He is also partial to a wonder goal too. I think every Wigan fan is expecting him to emerge as a top English talent in the next year and even make some appearances in the Premier League next season.
I haven’t watched too much of Preston in recent times. However, with being asked to contribute this piece, I watched the highlights of your game with Ipswich and I was impressed with what I saw. Some cracking play by Robinson and some nice link-up play with Nmecha. It will certainly be a tough game for us at the DW however we do like playing at home this season.
It will be interesting to see how Paul Cook decides to set-up his team against Preston because like I mentioned earlier he is quite prone to swapping depending on the team he is facing. It would be nice to see Joe Garner get a run out against his former club, at the start of the season I wasn’t the biggest fan of Garner however in recent months he has certainly turned my head.
My first impression was that he’s too busy trying to get defenders sent off than focusing on scoring as a normal striker would however you can’t say he doesn’t put himself about and although he hasn’t been clinical it looks as though he will be getting the title of top scorer at the club this season despite having a very stop-start season.
We tend to play with the 4-2-3-1 formation a lot of the time with Sam Morsy and Lee Evans pinning down the midfield however in recent months Reece James has taken over this role with Morsy releasing Evans further forward.
My guess at the team for the game would be some like this: Walton; Byrne, Dunkley, Kipre/Olson, Robinson; James, Morsy; Massey, Powell, Naismith; Clarke/Garner
I think it might be a nervy fixture with us needing just one more win to virtually guarantee safety. We have proved to be very resilient at home against the better sides in the league and I think we have one of the top 8 home records this season. I’m hoping for a 1-0 Wigan win however it wouldn’t surprise me if it edge’s out for a draw. The need for the points, however, is certainly with us though. For my score prediction though, I’m going to go with 1-1.
In terms of starting XI, I fully expect there to be little change from the Ipswich game. The back 4, as much potential as Josh Earl has at 20 years of age, looked much more assured with Fisher playing at left-back and Joe Rafferty playing at right-back.
I think Alex Neil will start experimenting a bit more with the players he starts after we’ve played this game with the likes of Josh Ginnelly potentially seeing more game time as we get closer to the end of the season. For my starting XI prediction, I’m going to go with the following: Rudd; Rafferty, Storey, Davies, Fisher; Ledson; Nmecha, Johnson, Gallagher, Robinson; Maguire. But, that could be completely wrong, who knows.
In terms of a score prediction, I think it’ll be a tough game but I think there’s going to be goals so I’m going to go for 3-2 to North End with Robinson scoring yet again upon his return from injury.