Preston North End go into Saturday’s clash with Huddersfield at Deepdale having spent 24 hours on top of the Championship last weekend for the first time since 2006. Alex Neil’s men were made to work hard for last Sunday’s 1-0 win at Charlton Athletic, although PNE were the better team overall and created a host of chances.
A Paul Gallagher penalty was the only goal that split the sides after he came on to replace top scorer Daniel Johnson who had come off with a suspected foot injury. In fairness, the scoreline wouldn’t have flattered us if it was more than the singular goal.
The intrigue surrounding the Huddersfield encounter will be whether the Jamaican playmaker is fit to keep his place in the starting XI, having had a stellar season in a North End shirt so far. He has the most goal contributions of anyone in the league so far this season with 12 in total; 8 goals and 4 assists.
Alex Neil’s side will undoubtedly face another tough test against the Terriers, who were taken over by Danny and Nicky Cowley in September following the sacking of Jan Siewert. The Yorkshiremen have risen up from the bottom of the table and now sit in 18th place, sights now firmly set on the upper echelons of the league.
They are unbeaten in their last seven games, the most recent of those an excellent 1-0 win at Thomas Frank’s free-flowing Brentford. Their recent form has been recognised too with Danny Cowley winning the manager of the month award for October.
😄 Ladies and gentlemen…
🏆 Your October @SkyBetChamp Manager of the Month!
👏 Well done Danny Cowley and the rest of the #htafc backroom staff!
— Huddersfield Town (@htafc) November 8, 2019
After being relegated from the top flight last season, Huddersfield initially struggled to re-establish themselves in the second tier. After the appointment of the Cowley brothers, though, they look to have turned a corner.
Their seven-game unbeaten run began with a 1-1 home draw at Millwall, before two consecutive victories against Stoke and Hull. They were perhaps unlucky to only take a point away from Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers, although in truth it was a game where both teams had the chance to take the victory.
Their last two games have also seen wins for Cowley’s side. Christopher Schindler and Karlan Ahearne-Grant scored the goals as the Terriers defeated currently managerless Barnsley 2-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Last weekend, they recorded a highly impressive 1-0 win at Brentford, Ahearne-Grant taking his goal tally up to nine for what has been an excellent individual season for the 22-year-old.
North End have been in similarly good form in their last five games. The only blot on the copybook came in a 1-0 defeat at Reading after the international break, before Tom Barkhuizen’s strike was cancelled out by Eddie Nketiah’s late header as North End contested an entertaining 1-1 draw with Leeds at Deepdale.
Neil’s side then came from 2-0 down to beat Blackburn 3-2, before Gallagher’s penalty was enough to see off Lee Bowyer’s Charlton at the Valley.
The most obvious danger for Huddersfield is their nine-goal top scorer, Karlan Ahearne-Grant. The 22-year old was signed when the Terriers were still in the Premier League last season and was one of the few real positives in what was a disappointing campaign for them.
He scored four goals in 13 appearances last term – remarkably ending up as Huddersfield top scorer in all competitions.
Grant has plenty of pace but also seems to have added a finishing touch to his game as well, having spent time on loan at League Two Crawley Town and at his former club Charlton in the past.
The final danger is defender and club captain Christopher Schindler. Another cult hero at the club, having scored the winning penalty in the 2017 Championship play-off final to see David Wagner’s Terriers promoted to the Premier League.
He continued his solid performances into both Premier League campaigns despite Huddersfield’s relegation last season. After joining from 1860 Munich, Schindler has made over 130 appearances for the club and will provide a tough test for North End’s attack on Saturday.
The 6’2″ German giant is a threat in both boxes and notched his first goal of the campaign against Barnsley.
At the time of writing Huddersfield Town are 7 (S-E-V-E-N) games unbeaten. In the topsy-turvey world of The Championship, such a run may not always be considered as quite the achievement, but when you notice that Huddersfield have won more games in the past month than they had in the previous 17, then you start to comprehend why there are reasons to be a little chirpier in the southwestern corner of West Yorkshire.
A playing squad afflicted with the mental battle wounds of the Premier League, things went from bad to worse at the start of this season. It was obvious from the moment Town crashed out of the League Cup at home to Lincoln with a performance that even the most one-eyed of Town fans would describe as “tepid at best”, that our ‘bright young German manager’ was more ‘Dead Jan Walking” than the heir apparent that we initially had hoped.
Jan Siewert departed with 1 win in 19 games and a win ratio of 5.3% – only John Haselden who oversaw no wins in 14 games during our great slide into depression during the 1970’s spares him from being the worst manager in our history from a statistical point of view. Although perhaps stats don’t tell the full story of Jan’s reign, but that story is for another day. With 6 games on the board and only 1 point, Town now bottom of the league sent out an SOS which was answered by The Cowley Brothers (eventually).
A popular appointment off of the bat, the brothers set about raising morale and standards among Town’s shattered squad. Two quick defeats followed, but so did hope – Town for too long a soft touch with no visibly discernible plan now looked more organised, strategic and no longer unacquainted. On the 1st of October, we travelled to Stoke in a game that was already being billed as a 6 pointer. The fact we’re even contemplating a 6 pointer on the 1st of October shows you how dire the start to the season had been. ‘Dire’ would be an incredibly kind way of describing that game against Stoke, it was a shocker. But we won, finally.
Town’s first win since the 26th February was then followed up with an impressive 3-0 win against Hull City – Town’s first win on a Saturday since the 14th of April 2018. Unwanted records were falling and gloom was lifting, The Cowley’s and their love of a “process” were now having the desired effect.
Onto Saturday. Our record at Deepdale isn’t particularly inspiring but as we’ve seen this season, records don’t always count for much in football and using rather simple terms, it’s a game we’re capable of winning, drawing and losing, and that excites me!
The Premier League, of course, is what we all strive for but the closed shop at the top and billionaire-backed status quo can make for a pretty mundane experience. Not knowing how you’ll get on on a Saturday is part of the fabric of supporting a football team, the mystique and enjoyment. As Town fans, we’re excited to watch our side again after a sadly predictable 18 months.
So how will we set up this weekend? A large part of our turnaround has been The Cowley Brothers’ (from now on I’m going to refer to them TCB’s) ability to turn around the form of some of our players that achieved promotion and then held their own in the Premier League for one season. One such player has been Jonathan Hogg.
The experienced Hogg had been hit by our relegation and collapse as much as anyone. Visibly irked, angry and cantankerous, Hogg has been a pivotal player in our turnaround but is sadly suspended for Saturday. As such I think TCB’s will look to revert to a 433 system after deploying Lewis O’Brien in a more advanced #10 role last week. I think he will drop back into a 3 and accompany Juninho Bacuna and Trevoh Chalobah or Jon Gorenc Stankovic as the holding player. I suspect TCB’s will go for Chalobah in the final reckoning.
Town’s other conundrum may be with what they do at left back. Jaden Brown is having a fantastic breakout season but sadly left the field last week wearing a protective boot. Word is that he could be missing for a few weeks so Town will need to prepare an alternative. In theory, we have 2 impressive options. Dutch International centre back Terence Kongolo is back in training and apparently available, while Kosovan International right back Flo Hadergjonaj could also fill in. Both should be looking to prove a point to dislodge the 20-year-old Brown.
From 2016-2018 David Wagner did unbelievable things at our football club. He broke through a perceived glass ceiling and helped to create wonderful legends and cult heroes that Town fans will look back on with great fondness for decades. Replacing a club legend like Aaron Mooy was therefore always going to be an incredibly difficult task. But in academy graduate, Lewis O’Brien Huddersfield have a very different type of midfield player but one of increasing quality.
Given a chance in pre-season after a loan at Bradford last season, O’Brien has never looked back and been a real driving force in midfield. Possessing nice close control, balance and tenacity, he’s a modern midfielder with a bit of everything (apart from height!). O’Brien is probably quite far out in front in the early running for player of the season with one other guy, Karlan Grant.
Playing across the front 3, TCB’s are working at getting Grant into good positions where his natural finishing ability is shining through. 9 goals so far this season has him 3rd in the Championship top scorers list. Grant has the ability to hurt teams from a variety of positions whether that be with either foot, his head, inside or outside the box or when taking set-pieces. He can get goals from a variety of positions and situations and that’s what makes him dangerous to the opposition and incredibly valuable to us.
As for a final XI prediction, I’ll go with the following in a 4-3-3: Grabara; Simpson, Elphick, Schindler, Kongolo; Chalobah, Bacuna, O’Brien; Kachunga, Grant, Campbell. I also think the game will finish 1-1. Tough to split the two sides.
Finally, I’d like to wish you all the best at PNE for the rest of the season. Personally I think you’re long overdue for a turn in the Premier League and providing of course that it’s not at the expense of ourselves, then I genuinely wish you well in the promotion race.
This has the potential to be a very tough test for North End, Danny Cowley’s men in a sharp vein of form under the ex-Lincoln boss. But Alex Neil’s side currently sit second in the table and with a chance to end the weekend back at the summit of the Championship, so both teams should go into this with plenty of confidence.
North End, of course, have the best home record of anyone in the league this campaign, and I think that should give them the edge in what ultimately should be a closely fought encounter against a side who were playing Premier League football just six months ago. I will go for a 2-1 North End win on Saturday.
In terms of the starting XI, Paul Gallagher will be in contention to return to the starting XI given his winning penalty on Sunday and the fact that Daniel Johnson is doubtful for the clash.
If Johnson is fit he will surely retain his place, with Ryan Ledson in my opinion set to be the only other change with Ben Pearson suspended. However, I have a feeling Johnson may miss this one and be given a bit longer to come back to fitness with the international break just around the corner.
This is my predicted XI for the game: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Ledson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Browne, Maguire; Nugent.
How do you think we will get on on Saturday? Will we maintain our great home record and head into the international break on the back of a win? Let us know on twitter, @fromthefinney or over on our Facebook page, From the Finney.
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