This week is Friday night football at Deepdale as Alex Neil’s men face an out of form Bristol City side who will be looking to change their fortunes against an equally out-of-sorts North End side.
North End come into the game off the back of a very deflating 2-1 defeat against an in-form Barnsley side, despite taking the lead inside the first two minutes with a Seani Maguire header that just about crossed the line.
However, the bad run stretches back further than the Barnsley game. We only have 3 wins in our last 9 and just 2 wins at home all season. So with the home wins still being pretty much non-existent, and our away form taking a hit of late, it is worrying times for North End and the fans and there are questions now being asked of Alex Neil by more and more people.
Whether you’re ‘Neil in’ or ‘Neil out’, the results haven’t been good enough, and the performances in addition to the manner of the recent defeats are even worse. The regression from playing free-flowing football to what is commonly being described by many fans as ‘hoof ball’, really is painful to watch.
Things are starting to feel very stale with the club, including the squad, and results need to change as soon as possible. Hopefully, it starts on Friday night under the Deepdale lights.
As for the visitors, after Dean Holden’s appointment was made permanent in the summer and they also made some, on paper, impressive signings. This seemed to set the Robins up for a positive campaign but they have had some mixed results of late and seems to have left their fans deflated, believing that they should be sitting higher in the table.
They’ve signed some very experienced players such as Chris Brunt and striker Chris Martin as well as Premier League loans such as Alfie Mawson and Steven Sessegnon from recently promoted Fulham. In truth, these are the type of signings we’d have done well looking into making in recent windows.
The first of the Bristol City squad I’ll point out is experienced striker Nahki Wells. The attacker, who is no stranger to scoring against North End, is a pacey striker who I imagine will definitely cause us problems on Friday night.
North End have been rumoured to have an interest in the Bermudian, and he spent last season on loan at QPR and spent the first half of the season partnering Jordan Hugill up top before being recalled by Burnley to be sold to Bristol City for a fee believed to be around £4 million. He has 4 goals and an assist to his name this campaign and I fully expect him to make it to at least double figures before the end of the season.
Secondly, I think a player who will be difficult to face off against is centre back Tomas Kalas. The Czech Republic international is a powerful centre half, standing at 6ft tall and will be a challenge for whoever plays up-front on Friday night.
He’s won an average of 4.4 aerial duels in the Championship this season, and if we carry on with the frustrating long ball football, he could be very dominant against our attackers.
For this week’s opposition view, we have ‘The Exiled Robin’, Paul. You can find Paul on twitter here – @TheExiledRobin.
If any City fans thought the ups and the downs of Lee Johnson’s reign might be consigned to the bin following his sacking in the summer, then they’ll be starting to get very worried.
A really good start to Dean Holden’s managerial career in BS3 is in danger of unravelling amongst a series of events, with a COVID outbreak, long-term injuries and poor form causing unrest amongst a portion of the fan-base.
Some experienced summer signings threatened early on to add some genuine Championship quality and experience to a squad that was in and around the play-off picture for most of 2019-20, but injuries, in particular, have impacted in a massive way and that squad suddenly looks a bit bare and devoid of ideas. Ten first-team squad players, many first-choice starters, are out with long-term injuries, including Fulham loanees Alfie Mawson and Steven Sessegnon, midfield regulars Andi Weimann and Jamie Paterson, and promising newcomers (or loanee returners) Joe Williams and Liam Walsh.
Good wins at Cardiff and Huddersfield last month have faded from memory with apathetic, toothless displays in the last two against Rotherham and Millwall – both of whom were on losing runs before comfortably overcoming City.
A trip to old rivals Preston North End feels like absolutely the last matchup we need right now as we head into the festive period, but maybe, football being football, it might just be what we need.
We’re missing Baker, Mawson, Dasilva, Brunt, Williams, Walsh, Sessegnon, Paterson, Weimann and the newly suspended Famara Diedhiou, whilst experienced campaigners Nahki Wells and captain Tomas Kalas both limped off on Tuesday night.
My best guess at a starting XI would be a 3-5-2 as follows: Bentley; Vyner, Kalas (c), Mariappa; Hunt, Bakinson, Nagy, O’Dowda, Rowe; Wells, Martin.
Maybe it’s time for the “Bristol City Babes” to show what they’re capable of!
As for my prediction, I’m afraid it’s not a positive one. Bristol City played 3 at the back against Millwall in midweek, and despite a disappointing 2-0 defeat, many teams have had success at Deepdale this season playing 3/5 at the back and allowing us to have a lot of the ball.
As Jimmy mentioned on this week’s midweek podcast, we really didn’t settle into the shape on Tuesday night against Barnsley, so hopefully, we will see a return to the more familiar formation of 4-2-3-1.
I’m not too sure how serious the knocks are too Brad Potts and Ryan Ledson however I think we do play a lot better with either or both of them playing in that midfield trio. Hopefully, we see a return for Ryan Ledson as well as Scott Sinclair who I’m assuming was rested in midweek which was only the second game of the season he didn’t start.
We may also see one of the centre-halves return out of either Paul Huntington or Jordan Storey if Neil chooses to go back to a flat back 4, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Josh Earl or Andrew Hughes partner Ben Davies at centre half.
For a scoreline prediction, I’m going to go for a 1-1 score draw with Scott Sinclair to score. I don’t think we have enough in our play at the minute to have the quality to win the game, but with Bristol City’s recent form and some surprise loses against the likes of Rotherham and Millwall, I believe the two sides could cancel each other out.
As for a starting XI, I will go with the following: Rudd; Fisher, Davies, Earl, Hughes; Ledson, Browne; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Sinclair; Maguire.
After another decent contribution I think Maguire deserves to be upfront, whether he’ll be alone up top is dependent on the formation which is anyone’s guess, and I would really like to see Josh Earl feature again. He impressed not just me, but many other fans with his performance on Tuesday night.
But regardless of the team that Alex Neil puts out, it’s going to be a tough fixture like the majority in the Championship, and hopefully, we’ll begin to see our form turn in front of the Sky cameras. Here’s hoping!
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