We’re back at Deepdale this weekend as Alex Neil’s side look to bounce back from defeat in south London as promotion-chasing Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon. Johnathan Woodgate’s side will be travelling up North in high spirits after winning their last two games, enjoying a 1-2 win away at Bristol City on Wednesday night.
The win put Bournemouth back into the play-off places, but with a very impressive Barnsley breathing down their necks, the Cherries will be hoping to have very few slip-ups between now and the end of the season, starting with a win at Deepdale on Saturday.
Preston’s season is as good as over. We have little to no chance of making the play-offs now and a relegation fight looks unlikely, but I would imagine that this game will mean something to Alex Neil and the lads in that dressing room.
I don’t want to focus on Ben Pearson’s comments after leaving North End, as I’d much rather remember Pearo for the many good times we had watching him in a North End shirt, but I’m sure his comments will be in the minds of a few North End players come 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
As for the visitors, I think their main threat in front of goal would be Dominic Solanke. The former Liverpool man is the Cherries’ top scorer this season with 10 Championship goals in his 29 league appearances after recently recovering from injury.
At the age of just 23, the striker has led the line very well since the club was relegated from the Premier League last campaign and lost two of their star players in the form of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser.
Solanke has also managed to get 6 assists for himself this season, showing how well the physical striker can link-up play as well as get in behind and score goals at this level. Proving that he can be a danger to any defence in this league.
The second player is a man we all know very well, Ben Pearson. After leaving Preston in January, Bournemouth fans have been mightily impressed with Pearson’s performances and after starting the last two games, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the former Manchester United man start at Deepdale.
It was a sad ending for Pearo without any sort of goodbye with fans not being able to watch live games, and I’m sure the events and comments that followed his departure, Ben Pearson will be more than ready to face his former side.
Should Ryan Ledson be fit to return tomorrow, it will be an interesting battle between the two in the middle of the park. But Pearson has a lot more to his game than just aggression and his outstanding passing range will cause problems for North End should he be selected.
I’m sure many North End fans will have had this game in their diaries for a while now, and if the last encounter was anything to go by, this game should have goals and plenty of them. The reverse fixture saw North End run out 2-3 winners as an outstanding counter-attack finished off by Tom Barkhuizen, a wonder goal as Scott Sinclair lobbed Asmir Begovic from just inside the Bournemouth half and a close-range finish from Patrick Bauer saw North End leave the Vitality Stadium with all 3 points.
I think North End will be wanting to react from the midweek defeat to Millwall despite starting as the better side and a beautiful volley from Ched Evans putting North End 0-1 up inside the first 15 minutes or so. After Millwall equalised before half time, defensive mistakes that cost us late on and we left The Den with nothing.
So hopefully the disappointment in the capital can be motivation enough to spur North End to another home win after beating Huddersfield last time out at Deepdale.
Bournemouth will of course be looking to build on their recent back-to-back wins, and as previously mentioned, high-flying Barnsley are right on their heels and will be looking to take advantage of any Bournemouth slip-up between now and the end of the season.
As for a starting line-up, I’m expecting to see a number of changes from Alex Neil: Iversen; Browne, Storey, Hughes, Cunningham; Whiteman, Ledson; Sinclair, Johnson, Gordon; Evans.
That would mean Alan Browne returning at right-back in place of Sepp van den Burg who may need a rest for a game or two after struggling against Millwall in midweek. I also would hope to see Ryan Ledson back in the side after it appears he has been in contention for the last couple of games, and I also expect to see Daniel Johnson back in the starting XI.
I think we may well struggle if Alan Browne isn’t fit and I think a number of fans recognised we missed a player like Ryan Ledson in the midfield on Tuesday night to break up play and utilise Ben Whiteman’s passing range a lot more than we did.
As for the scoreline, I’m going to go with a 2-1 North End win. Most readers will think that’s very optimistic given our last performance, but I think should we have the likes of Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson back in the side, I fancy us to pull off an upset of Saturday afternoon.