After Tuesday’s League Cup tie with Premier League champions Manchester City, it is back to league action for Preston North End as they take on Bristol City at Deepdale. Saturday’s clash sees third take on seventh, a reflection of the excellent starts that both sides have made to this season.
Our visitors come into the game off the back of a seven-game unbeaten run, four of those wins. North End have their own unbeaten run to attempt to continue, themselves having not lost in five Championship games.
The Robins were dealt a crushing blow last week with the news that on-loan Stoke striker Benik Afobe had suffered a cruciate ligament injury, one that will rule him out for the remainder of the season. Alex Neil, meanwhile, has no fresh injury concerns in the PNE camp, and David Nugent made a successful return to action on Tuesday when he came off the bench against City.
As mentioned above, both sides are on impressive winning runs. North End’s started in front of the Sky cameras in August, an impressive 3-1 victory over Stoke highlighted their goalscoring prowess.
They followed that up with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, August player of the month Daniel Johnson netting two penalties. A late Albert Adomah goal prevented them from taking all three points away from Nottingham Forest at the start of September, but a 1-1 draw was still a highly respectable result.
One of Preston’s best performances of the season then came in a 2-0 home win against Brentford, notable not just for the quality of the two goals scored by Sean Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen but the way in which they blunted a prolific Brentford attack.
Birmingham were then put to the sword last Saturday, Maguire netting his second in two games to win the game 1-0. Bristol City, meanwhile, kicked off their unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw at Birmingham.
They followed that with a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers. Then came two successive away wins for the Robins, the first was a highly impressive 2-1 victory at Phillip Cocu’s Derby. Andi Weimann and Josh Brownhill goals gave them a half time lead, although Kieran Dowell’s 85th-minute strike for the Rams meant City had to thwart some late pressure.
Then they recorded a 3-1 win at Hull City, followed by Tommy Rowe’s late strike to rescue a point at home to Middlesbrough.
Last Saturday saw them take on second-placed Swansea, Steve Cooper’s men having scored in every Championship game prior. Bristol City stopped them from extending that streak though, they did end up losing Nathan Baker in the first half due to injury as the game ended goalless.
Injury to star man Afobe has opened up a void in the centre of Bristol City’s attack, one that will likely be filled by last season’s top scorer Famara Diedhou. The Senegal international has been in and out of the City team this season, although he netted his first league goal of the season against Stoke two weeks ago.
26-year-old Diedhou is a huge threat in the air – watch out for the battle between himself and Patrick Bauer – but he also has a turn of pace as well.
His 13 goals last season shows his finishing ability, and even if he hasn’t been in great form this season, he is a player that has the talent to make a real difference on Saturday.
Bristol City beat off competition from several clubs to land Chelsea’s Kasey Palmer on a permanent deal. Palmer, who won promotion out of this division whilst on loan at Huddersfield in 2016/17, signed for the Robins initially on loan for the second half of last season after a mixed spell with Blackburn in the opening portion of the campaign.
He only netted two goals in 15 appearances for City, but Johnson clearly saw enough to make a move to sign the midfielder.
The City boss told the Bristol Post in August that he had been impressed with the England U21 international’s “application and focus” during the off-season.
Palmer’s quality on the ball is one of his biggest assets, but he can play in several positions across the midfield and upfront as well, having filled the striker role on a couple of occasions for Blackburn last season.
He is not known for his aerial ability but his goal against Middlesbrough – his only goal this season – came as a result of a powerful header past Darren Randolph.
The third player to watch is former North End midfielder Josh Brownhill. He has captained the side in recent weeks in the absence of another former Lilywhites man, Bailey Wright (who could return on Saturday), has been heavily praised by Johnson throughout his City career as he develops into one of the Championship’s top midfielders.
In the midst of rumoured Premier League interest this summer, the Robins were able to hold on to their star man and he has continued his impressive form into the new season.
He has five goals in both of his previous two seasons, and netted the winner in City’s 2-1 win over Derby earlier in the season. With the pair close friends, watch out for the midfield battle between Brownhill and Alan Browne if both players start on Saturday.
This week, the opposition view comes from Bristol City fan, Paul Binning. Paul did the same for us last season and he’s back for a second time. If you would like to follow him for all the low-down on Bristol City, you can find him on twitter here – @TheExiledRobin.
It’s been a bit of a strange one as we’ve carried on a bit like last year. We’re in top form away from home – no team in England has more points than us on the road in 2019 – but at home, we haven’t quite found the formula to break teams down and get a regular three points.
We made 13 signings in the summer and lost Adam Webster and Marlon Pack very late on, so there’s been a bit of a feel of settling down in what we’ve been doing.
We have also got six players injured all of whom it could be argued would be in the first XI if fit. We’ve got a central midfielder who’s played most of his career in League One playing at left-back and we’ll probably have to play a still largely unproven youngster and free agent, emergency signing in Ashley Williams in the heart of the defence with £13m-worth of centre-backs injured.
We’ve been forced into playing an 18-year-old in Han-Noah Massengo, (you’ll hear a lot more about him in the future!) in the centre of midfield and we’ve lost the planned focal point of our attack with Benik Afobe, who had started so brightly for us, out for the season with an ACL injury.
Considering all of that, I’d say we’re doing very nicely indeed!
If we can hang in around the play-off positions for the next couple of months we should start to see some of these guys return – Tomas Kalas, Jay Dasilva & Adam Nagy in particular – and then we should have a stronger spine to the team, however well their replacements are doing currently.
Once you’re in the mix at the turn of the year a lot comes down to January signings and that’s an area we’ve been weak in the past two seasons, not really bringing anyone in to get us over the line. I suspect we’ll be a touch more bullish this winter if promotion or play-off places are on the table.
We mix and match a fair bit, both in terms of our formation and the personnel chosen and we’ve got a shed-load of injuries as mentioned above, but it will possibly something like this in a sort-of 4-2-3-1 formation – Bentley; Hunt, Moore, Williams, Rowe; Browhill, Massengo; Weimann, Palmer, Eliasson; Diedhiou.
Well we never, ever seem to beat you so despite our excellent away record, the best I can hope for is a draw. I’ll plump for a 1-1
PNE haven’t lost against Bristol City in the league since 2011, winning six out of the last seven games between the two sides. The Robins have presented a tough test in recent seasons, however, and I would expect them to again provide a difficult challenge to North End’s unbeaten run.
They will miss Afobe though, and the influential Baker could be a big loss in the centre of defence if he too misses out.
Lee Johnson’s side had the advantage of being able to rest players in midweek, given they were knocked out in round one of the Carabao Cup, but Alex Neil did the same with several of his players.
I think North End, with home advantage, should just have too much for Bristol City, and I’ll go with a win for us – Preston North End 2-1 Bristol City. In terms of the starting XI, I’d go with the following – Rudd; Rafferty, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Gallagher; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Harrop; Maguire.