Tuesday night sees Blackburn Rovers come to Deepdale in what is our only home ‘derby’ of the season and Alex Neil is heading into it with a rather unusual situation in his squad. That unusual situation is of course, the fact that Darnell Fisher is (at the time of writing) likely to be missing after the FA charged the North End right-back for a “breach of FA Rule E3” according to the official PNE club website.
Alex Neil looks likely to be without Andrew Hughes for a few weeks more yet so he heads into this game with limited options at full-back. In fact, he’s left with just Joe Rafferty and Josh Earl as recognised full-backs but he has options.
The gaffer’s record in Lancashire derbies speaks for itself though and that alone tells me he has absolutely no issues getting his players up for a derby game. Just a reminder of his record against the local sides for you:
Blackburn Rovers – P4, W3, D1 with a goal difference of +5 with his sides having scored 9 goals and conceded 4.
Wigan Athletic – P4, W3, L1 with a goal difference of +6 having scored 9 and conceded 3.
Bolton Wanderers – P4, W2, D2 with a goal difference of +4 having scored 7 and conceded 3.
As I said, not a bad record really.
This will be the first “lockdown derby” and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that having no fans present for this one will affect the game. However, having finally gotten the monkey of no home win off our backs on Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday, I hope the lads will be heading into this game full of confidence.
Fingers crossed that Alex Neil and the boys can continue our fine run of form in local derbies on Tuesday night.
𝗗 𝗘 𝗥 𝗕 𝗬 𝗗 𝗔 𝗬 💥— From the Finney (@fromthefinney) November 24, 2020
In the 12 games played against our local rivals, we’ve scored 25 goals, conceding only 11 goals. 🔢 #pnefc
Our derby scorers are:
Barky – 7️⃣
Robbo – 4️⃣
Seani – 3️⃣
DJ – 3️⃣
Browney – 3️⃣
King Louis – 2️⃣
Gally – 2️⃣
Josh Harrop – 1️⃣ pic.twitter.com/WZmDN9uJLR
I can’t really look past Rovers’ front three and the only place to start really is with the top scorer in the league, Adam Armstrong.
He’s got 11 goals to his name so far this season which is 50% of Blackburn’s goals in the league this season, 7 of those have been scored at Ewood and 4 have come away from home. He averages 5.2 shots per game which is the most of any player in England’s 4 leagues, including the Premier League.
Let’s make no mistake here, the former Newcastle man is a danger and whoever is playing in defence for us will have their hands full tonight.
Next up there’s the on-loan Liverpool youngster, Harvey Elliott. He might only be 17 but having turned down interest from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, he signed for Premier League champions Liverpool last summer. He’s on loan at Rovers for the season and with 7 appearances under his belt, he already has 4 goal contributions (3A, 1G).
According to Blackburn Rovers reporter for LancsLive, Jaquob Crooke, he’s highly thought of at Rovers too and out on the training pitches, “they can’t speak highly enough of him”.
Finally, Ben Brereton has shown signs of improvement for Rovers this season. Featuring out on the left or through the middle for Rovers this season, he’s made 12 appearances and has 4 goals contributions to his name so far this season (2G, 2A).
To sum Rovers’ start to the season up in a word would be challenging, but frustrating seems to cover most of it. At the time of writing, Rovers are yet to beat a side above them before kick-off, and it is one of several factors that have held us back in being around the top six so far this season.
Injuries to the likes of Bradley Dack and Lewis Travis, both of whom are key members of the side, have played their part, but also Rovers’ inability to edge the fine margins has been a contributing factor. One word used by Tony Mowbray a lot is ‘balance’, which we’ve struggled to find in the side. Often, we have players with similar attributes in the midfield and it affects our style and fluency – take Tom Trybull’s disappointing showing in Saturday’s draw with Luton as one of many examples.
However, one positive to take so far this season is definitely the improvement of Ben Brereton. He’s looked a different player since football ‘restarted’ in June, and his confidence to get on the ball and drive forward is something we hadn’t seen of him much before, so it is a welcomed addition to the side.
In terms of ambition for the season, Rovers should be making a challenge for the top six. Tony Mowbray has added promotion quality in the positions that we all felt the club needed to, and the squad we have – on paper (although I know it’s about much more than this) – is one of the best we have had since relegation to the second tier in 2012.
Tuesday night presents the chance for Rovers to kickstart a run, and the chance to make up for last season’s disappointing result after such a strong start. It’ll be a different occasion without the supporters there, but one that the players will know has a little extra meaning to it.
My XI prediction for the game is as follows in a 4-3-3 formation: Kaminski; Nyambe, Lenihan, Wharton, Douglas; Rothwell, Trybull, Holtby; Elliott, Brereton, Armstrong.
It’ll be a tough test for Rovers no doubt, but one I feel we can come away with something. My heart says a 2-1 win for Rovers, but I’ll go with my head for a 1-1 draw.
As well as the aforementioned full-back ‘problem’ facing Alex Neil, we’re at the start of a mental run of games now so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see 2 or 3 changes.
At the time of writing, there is no update on whether or not Darnell Fisher will be available to face Rovers but I will make my XI prediction on the assumption that he will be missing. Not only do I think there will be personnel changes tonight, I think there will be a shape change as well.
For me, I think Alex Neil will set us up with a back 3, going man for man with Rovers’ front three so in terms of an XI, I’ll take a stab in the dark with the following in a 3-5-2: Declan Rudd; Patrick Bauer, Paul Huntington, Ben Davies; Alan Browne (RWB), Ben Pearson, Ryan Ledson, Daniel Johnson, Tom Barkhuizen (LWB); Emil Riis, Scott Sinclair.
So that’s 3 changes from Saturday with Joe Rafferty, Brad Potts, and Darnell Fisher (presumably banned) all out with Alan Browne, Ben Pearson, and Ben Davies coming back into the XI. As for a score prediction, I’ll stick with my prediction on yesterday’s podcast, a 2-2 draw.
What do you think to tonight? How do you think Alex Neil will set us up? Let us know on twitter here – @fromthefinney.
If you’re yet to listen to this week’s episode of the From the Finney podcast, it’s available to stream on the majority of streaming platforms or here on our website – fromthefinney.co.uk/podcast. Alternatively, you can press play on the player directly below this paragraph and stream episode 16 of season 2 of the From the Finney podcast right now.