If there was ever a game that signalled North End’s ambitions for this season, it was Tuesday night’s clash against Leeds United. Marcelo Bielsa’s side, known as one of the best footballing teams in the country, were blunted for 87 minutes by an excellent defensive showing from PNE.
Leeds had begun to control the game in the minutes leading up to Eddie Nketiah’s goal, but North End, at one stage ahead thanks to Tom Barkhuizen’s close-range finish, more than deserved to take a point away from the encounter.
Saturday sees the second local derby of the season with the visit of Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers to Deepdale. The stats are in PNE’s favour as it stands – Alex Neil’s men have the most points of any side in the division at home this season whilst Rovers sit 14th on the away form table.
Blackburn’s last win, in fact, came at the end of September against Reading, and they have lost three and drawn two of their five games since. However, the game being a local derby adds some spice to the occasion and it should be a hard-fought game for both sides.
North End’s 1-0 defeat to Reading last Saturday was their first league loss since mid-August when Borja Baston struck twice in a 3-2 victory for Swansea. Neil said the group collectively were “disappointed and frustrated” after coming back from the Madejski Stadium with no points, but added the players were glad for the game on Tuesday night to put it right.
And put it right they undoubtedly did, that late Nketiah goal denying them what would have been a superb victory against a Leeds side that should be pushing for automatic promotion. It was still an excellent performance though, and one that should give them plenty of confidence going into Saturday.
However, Rovers have had a more challenging time over the last few weeks. Since an impressive 2-1 win away at Reading in late September, they haven’t tasted victory in five attempts in the league, having already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Premier League Sheffield United.
It hasn’t been all bad news for Mowbray’s men, though. A credible 1-1 home draw with promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest coming in between defeats to Luton and QPR.
They then recorded another home draw, this time against Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield. That was followed most recently by a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham City, a game which Rovers had just one shot on target over the course of 90 minutes. A feat that they’re unlikely to repeat again on Saturday.
New arrival Lewis Holtby, signed as a free agent having left German 2. Bundesliga side Hamburg in the summer is undoubtedly Blackburn’s main threat. However, he missed out on the midweek defeat to Birmingham through injury and it is unclear whether he will make the North End clash.
Ryan Nyambe has been one of Rovers’ most consistent players since he established himself in the first team during the 2016/17 season. The 21-year-old right-back has been on the bench recently but completed 90 minutes against Huddersfield before keeping his place for the defeat at Birmingham.
The Democratic Republic of Congo international is attack-minded, has plenty of pace and is also accomplished defensively. Whether he will play as part of a back three or on the right side of a back four remains to be seen, but expect him to play a part in any attacks Rovers may have on Saturday.
Stewart Downing may be approaching his 36th year but he is as influential as ever in the second tier. Another free transfer, having left Middlesbrough, Downing has made the left-wing spot his own at Rovers.
The former England international has not notched a goal yet this season but provided the assist for Derrick Williams’s winner in an impressive 1-0 away win at Hull earlier this season, and has impressed with his dead ball and crossing abilities. The ex-Liverpool man may not possess genuine pace anymore, but is one player to watch on Saturday as someone who can create something out of nothing.
To say this season has been frustrating would be an understatement. We began with a disappointing loss to Charlton and then lost at Fulham. We finally got going picking up seven points in three matches, and things looked up, and we were unlucky to come away with nothing from West Brom, meaning we headed into the first international break with a positive mindset and harbouring hopes of a successful season.
Two wins after the break saw plenty of talk of the top six, but inconsistency returned and we’re now without a win in five. Every match we’ve played has been one we thought we could win, and they’re the ones you have to win to hit the top six in this league.
Inconsistency is what will stop us being better than mid-table, even though we have a decent squad. I think (and hope) that Mowbray can turn us around and get us moving up the table. It’s still early doors and play-offs are still possible, but I worry that we lack the ability to go on a run of winning games to push us up the table.
As mentioned previously, we have a squad full of players who can bring results in this league. Bradley Dack and Danny Graham got thirty goals between them last season, and our summer signings should add an extra level of quality to the team.
However, if we keep losing games and Tony Mowbray eventually he loses his job, your guess is as good as mine on where we’ll end up.
The starting XI is a tough one to call for me. I’ll take a stab at: Walton; Nyambe, Adarabioyo, Williams, Bennett; Travis, Evans; Rothwell, Dack, Armstrong; Graham.
In terms of a score prediction, there’s only one real outcome any neutral would predict and that’s a Preston win. However, I refuse to predict us to lose, so I’ll go for a 2-1 win.
Given North End haven’t lost to Rovers since the two met for the first time in 15 years in 2016, and the league performances of the two sides this season, you would have to call PNE favourites for this one.
A derby can go either way though, and expect Rovers to be up for this one after a poor performance in midweek, but I am going to go for a North End win and say that it will be a 3-1 North End win.
For the starting XI, Paul Gallagher should come back into contention after being rotated on Tuesday, whilst Sean Maguire and Andrew Hughes could also return to the side.My XI prediction is as follows: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Gallagher; Maguire, Johnson, Barkhuizen; Nugent.