Since the 3-2 defeat at the hands of current table-toppers Swansea City, Alex Neil’s men haven’t lost a game in the league. 7 games played, 4 wins, 3 draws. 13 goals scored with only 7 in reply. A good run on the face of it but there’s an underlying feeling, and the manager said it himself, that there’s better to come from this squad.

That makes me sound like I’m not overly pleased with this current run that we’re on. Of course, I am very pleased with it but I just can’t help but feel that we’ve not been anywhere near our best at times and have still come away from games with points. I’ve said it on numerous podcast episodes that some games we’ve played, I thought were “odd games”.

There are plenty of positives to take from the games and plenty of stand-out performances too. Patrick Bauer, Sean Maguire, DJ, Darnell and the combative Ben Pearson are all names that come to mind as stand out performers with the latter being the best player in Lilywhite (in my opinion) in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw away at Middlesbrough.

Dan recently wrote a piece about Pearson’s reputation among referees and opposition players. It’s a bloody good read if I do say so myself but it highlights a few of the issues surrounding Ben and his performances but this season, for the majority, he’s looked a changed player. He seems to be less gobby towards the match officials and has only picked up 3 yellows so far this campaign with his latest coming after a series of ‘questionable’ tackles on Tuesday night against Boro.

Recent Form

As I mentioned at the start of the piece, we are currently on a 7-game unbeaten run and find ourselves in 6th position in the table. After 10 games of the season, that’s not a bad start at all. 10 games is also the point at which I find people start to take a look at the table in a bit more detail and a few may be surprised to find North End where they are, especially after last season.

At the 10 game mark last season, we found ourselves second bottom with 1 win, 2 draws and 7 defeats and a goal difference of -10 so it’ll probably be a surprise to many that we’re currently 6th with an almost flipped around record.

It certainly won’t be a surprise to my fellow host of the pod and regular writer Oli who wrote a piece in pre-season about how this season is the chance of a lifetime for North End. The past week or so for us has been a tough one though and to still be on the run we are is a testament to the manager and the squad.

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I say the squad because there’s been a fair bit of rotation in the games with players missing out through injury, illness or just being rested, such as in the Carabao Cup game against Manchester City. We were outgunned for sure but I think we came away from it with our heads held high. Not often you can say that after a 3-0 defeat.

Prior to that game there was a tough 1-0 win away at Birmingham City. Then in the Saturday just gone, we came back twice against Bristol City to rescue a 3-3 draw. I think that one took it out of a lot of the boys though as we were nowhere near their best on Tuesday night but we still managed to come away with a point from the Riverside.

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Barnsley, on the other hand, haven’t quite lived up to the opening day victory over Fulham. Since the 1-0 win in the capital, the South Yorkshire side have only picked up another 3 points in 9 games from a possible 27 available. They find themselves third-bottom in the table, perhaps only saved by the even worse form of Stoke City and Huddersfield.

It’s certainly going to be an entertaining game. Barnsley will no doubt be looking to pick up at least another point before the international break, if not all 3 and I have no doubt Alex Neil will have his North End squad ready to go out and try and keep the 3 points in Preston to keep our unbeaten run going heading into the break.

Potential Dangers

Barnsley have a handful of players that we should keep an eye on during the game. First of all, Cauley Woodrow. The Barnsley #9 has 3 goals to his name already this season and was the man to rescue a late point against Derby County in the midweek game.

Woodrow joined the Tykes in summer 2018 from Fulham and finished last season tied on 19 goals with the now-departed Keiffer Moore. Woodrow is a big lad but not really your traditional ‘target man’ if you will. Similar perhaps to Jordan Hugill in that he’s a bit of a runner and a powerful lad and you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll cause some problems for Bauer and Davies.

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The other player that is worth keeping an eye on and who I expect to have a lively game is Conor Chaplin. He was signed in the summer from Coventry after only having joined the Sky Blues in January 2019 on a permanent deal.

The left-footed forward is similar to our own Sean Maguire in that he is quite small with a low centre of gravity and is very direct with the ball at his feet. He likes running at defenders and is fairly quick. He usually plays out wide on the left but sometimes mixes things up too so you can bet your bottom dollar whoever is filling in at full-back for us, if Hughes isn’t fit, will have a job on their hands keeping him quiet should he start.

Overall, Barnsley have a decent enough squad and are sure to be a tough side for us to breakdown. Alex Mowatt, the former Leeds United man, is a threat from set-pieces and already has 3 assists to his name this season. We’re going to have to be on the ball (no pun intended) to come away from this one with anything to show.

Opposition View

We’re back this week with Luke Tingle providing us with some insight into the Tykes, their season to date and of course an XI and score prediction. You can follow Luke on twitter here – @BFC_Luke. So, without further ado, here he is…

It’s never boring being a Barnsley fan.

The last few years has consisted of mass changes on and off the field, so much so that I’d kill for a period of mediocrity. The last time we were relegated from this league our summer transfer window consisted of getting in about 16 new young players, after losing 5 or 6 key players in the 6 months prior to that.

Although that was technically a different board in charge of the club during that window, you would have thought that we would have learned our lesson by now. Mass turnover of players is not a good thing.

Yet again though, we’ve sold key players and replaced them with unknown quantities which is exactly why we’ve had a poor start to the season.

I believe that this policy of signing young talented players based on stats is definitely our best bet to compete in this division, but, there has to be some kind of balance. If the plan is to sell our better players when a good enough offer comes in, then we will without a doubt need more experience within the team to bring the younger lads on at this level.

The alternative to that is to hold onto our better players and make the turnover of players much smaller. Granted I appreciate that it’s not easy to do that when certain players’ contracts are running out which is why we have actually seen the club start handing out longer contracts. I think we’ve signed some pretty good young players, but they need time to get up to speed and we simply don’t have that time.

So far this season we’ve been very inconsistent with our performances which is to be expected. Our problem is that when we play poorly we lose and lose comfortably. On the flip side of that, however, when we play well we don’t win. It’s a bad habit to be in and a hard one to get out of.

We haven’t changed our style of play from last year, which for the time being is good to see and I hope Stendel can get the young lads ticking. If results carry on like they are though then I think we’ll start to see a more defensive approach to games.

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Stendel can only work with the tools he’s got and although he’s not without criticism in some games, it’s most definitely not his fault that we’ve been poor so far. If the majority of my best players had been sold I wouldn’t be best pleased either.

Apart from an appalling 45 minutes against Brentford, I would say that our performances are becoming more consistent, we’re just not good enough in both boxes and if we’re to survive this season then we have to get better in at least one of them.

Looking at the game then, I would be surprised if we managed to get a result. Obviously we still haven’t won away from home and I can’t really see that changing. You guys are in pretty good nick, especially at home. We usually come out all guns blazing in the first 20 minutes with our high pressing game so we could surprise you and get an early goal but I wouldn’t trust us to get a clean sheet.

We could sneak a draw but I’ll use my head and say 2-1 Preston win.

As for my predicted XI, I expect a couple of changes here and there but nothing major. I’ll say – Collins; J. Williams, Anderson, Halme, B Williams; Sibbick, Mowatt; Thomas, Chaplin, Bahre; Woodrow.

Browny looks like he needs a rest to me and because Bahre had a decent game against Derby, Thomas for Brown would be my only change really. Anderson was that poor against Derby that I’d be tempted to put Sibbick at centre back and play Styles in midfield. Can’t quite see Stendel doing that though.

Predictions

As for North End, as I mentioned earlier on it’s been a long old week for Alex Neil and his men and with Darnell Fisher suspended for picking up 5 yellow cards already at this early stage in the season, there will be at least 1 change to the starting XI.

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I don’t think there’ll be much in the way of a formation change so I’d go with the following XI: Rudd; Browne, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Maguire; Nugent.

The gaffer spoke in the press about how Nugent was in his thoughts for starting on Tuesday night and that if he had he’d have probably had about 60 minutes or so before making way so I think we could see him from the start on Saturday.

In case you missed it or haven’t yet listened to it, check out Episode #16 of the From the Finney podcast below. Myself, Dan and Oli had a chat with fellow North End fan and YouTuber, Ben Stewart about the month of September, the unbeaten run, the Manchester City game and much more. Just hit play on the player below. Finally, if you aren’t already, why not give us a follow on Twitter or a like on Facebook?