With the season back in swing, it is almost time for North End to return to Deepdale for the first time since the season’s suspension, where they play host to Neil Harris and Cardiff City in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday.
Facing Cardiff at Deepdale has, traditionally, been something of a boon for us. In recent years we have recorded two consecutive 3-0 victories over the Bluebirds before they spent last season in the Premier League. The season before their promotion we, in fact, did the double over the Welsh side, beating them 3-0 at Deepdale and a memorable last-gasp Tom Clarke header secured the points in the reverse fixture across the border.
Going a little further back will only compound our superb home record against Saturday’s opposition, with another 3-0 win including a delicious long-range chip from the wing from Chris Brown and, of course, that famous 6-0 thumping coming the year before in 2009.
Brown was joined on the scoresheet in both of those victories by Jon Parkin and, in case you missed it, you can listen to a special edition of the From the Finney Quizcast including the two former fan favourites and other special guests below.
The prospect of Saturday’s game is a different creature though. Cardiff are behind North End only by a single goal and will be travelling north with one intention; leapfrogging the Lilywhites into the play-off positions.
With Cardiff breathing so closely down our collective necks that our hairs are standing on end, I hardly feel the need to put a label on the importance of Saturday’s game. I wouldn’t go so far as some fans and call it a “must-win” affair though, after all there will still be 7 games and 21 points left to play for when all is said and done on Saturday. It is however important we do not lose, in my opinion, as while Cardiff would still be within reach were they to defeat us on Saturday, I believe their confidence would rise and ours could comparatively plummet.
Confidence is massive going into this final stage of the season, and Cardiff’s is likely pretty boosted at the moment following an impressive 2-0 victory over title contenders Leeds United at the weekend.
Meanwhile, North End’s confidence could be forgiven for having taken a hit with the concession of the late equaliser at Kenilworth Road, meaning a draw with bottom side Luton, and so some might say the Welsh side come into the weekend’s encounter as favourites, they certainly enter the fray with form on their side.
Cardiff have been able to keep the opposition guessing somewhat this season, with a fairly multi-faceted approach to goalscoring not dissimilar to North End’s.
One of the strings to their bow is set pieces. The Bluebirds are the top scorers in the division from set-plays, with 19 of their 54 goals coming from dead-ball situations. One of the key men to watch from set-pieces is former Bristol City defender Aden Flint, who loves a goal from them.
However, with 18 set-play goals this season there have been contributions in finishing them off from all over the pitch. Callum Paterson, Lee Tomlin and Robert Glatzel, the three most used by Neil Harris (and his predecessor Neil Warnock) as strikers, are all good presences in the box and have chipped in 7, 7 and 6 times respectively in total each this campaign.
They’re also pretty dangerous from long throws, primarily from Will Vaulks who I’ve always been a big fan of, but who is a player reborn under Neil Harris since the Millwall legend was appointed manager of Cardiff in November.
Just before the season was suspended, Cardiff hauled a point away from a game in which they were 2-0 down to Brentford, another play-off contending side, with both goals to halve the deficit and then equalise coming from Will Vaulks’ long throws causing havoc in the area.
Not just a physical side, Cardiff have plenty of pace and technicality to bring to the table too. Junior Hoilett, who scored at the weekend, is a very tidy player, often utilised as a winger or inside-forward type. With Premier League experience, strength with both feet and a penchant for cutting in from the left and going for goal, he will be one to keep a watchful eye on for whoever is deployed on the right side of the defence for North End.
Usually lining up on the other flank of what is normally a 3-man forward line for Harris’ side is Albert Adomah.
He has had a quiet-ish beginning to his time in Wales but, as many fans will know, the quick and devilish wide player loves a goal against North End, having netted against us for both Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest in recent times. He scored Forest’s late equaliser way back at the end of August after Billy Bodin’s goal had looked to have put us on track for our first away win of the season.
During the recent unpleasantness, when the football season hit pause and the world seemed to turn upside down, I briefly considered whether I would even return to football. You need to understand that as a Cardiff City supporter, it has been a frenetic decade or so. There can’t be many more Championship clubs who’ve experienced the highs and lows that we’ve encountered. Nevertheless, when it all came back, that familiar excited feeling returned and I wondered how I could ever have contemplated walking away.
It was reassuring to see the players and management take wage deferrals during the lockdown period. There have been a number of significant earners at Cardiff City over the years and if it wasn’t for club owner Vincent Tan, we’d have gone under years ago.
The Chairman Mehmet Dalman has been public in his criticism of the football industry and its unsustainable finances. It’s pretty clear if we don’t get promoted this season, there will be a big clear out.
Most of us Bluebirds had mixed feelings about Warnock moving on, personally I felt it was the right move for both parties. I thought he should be enjoying his retirement and spending time with his family, but it looks like his wife Sharon has had enough of him again as he’s just been hired at Middlesbrough!
Manager Neil Harris was far from the fans choice but to his credit, he has slowly but surely won the majority of his doubters over, primarily by making Cardiff City a hard team to beat. He still has work to do to convince us all that he is the right man but for now, most supporters are cautiously optimistic.
We are in excellent form, we have only lost three games since New Year’s Day and I think most of us would have taken joint 6th with 8 games to play. At present, injury concerns are minor and some of our most potent players in Lee Tomlin and Nathaniel Mendez Laing have returned just in time for the run-in.
We are yet to find a prolific scorer, to be honest, we haven’t had a consistent striker since the days of Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd some 10 years ago. Robert Glatzel or Calum Paterson should get the nod up front and I would be surprised if Harris changes the rest of the side from the one that beat Leeds United last weekend.
Looking at this weekend’s game, I am extremely sceptical that we can achieve a result. Preston North End are our bogey side, I can barely recall an occasion where we have beaten you and your manager was the one I was hoping we’d hire after Warnock.
I would be very happy with a draw to be honest, although I don’t think that suits either party too well with the chasing pack sniffing at our heels. I predict a score of 2-1 Preston North End but I hope to see the reverse!
As I mentioned when I looked ahead to the restart as part of the short series of writers’ thoughts, predictions are made all the tougher by the ongoing situation. From the teams that I have seen play twice in England since the restart, including the 4 sides involved in the League 2 play-offs, I did notice a step-up from the first game to the second as sides are beginning to find their rhythm, not dissimilar to how most sides grow into a season as it first begins.
In that sense, for want of a better phrase, I think we might be a little more ‘on the ball’ than we showed at times at Luton. Particularly, I would hope to see a little more continuation after the drinks breaks in each half, as following both last week there was a notable drop-off in intensity and we looked a little sluggish in the second part of each half.
An empty Deepdale may be disconcerting for the players, and we’ve talked about the impact of a lack of fans on home advantage. With these factors in mind and Cardiff’s strength taken into consideration, I would settle for a point in honesty.
The lads showed the faintest of glimpses of what we are really capable of last weekend and Scott Sinclair’s excellently taken goal was a huge plus, so a win is not beyond the realm of possibility of course, but I will predict a second consecutive 1-1 draw, holding everything in mind. I’ll do this in the hope that Cardiff don’t have their sights fixed too firmly on another scalp of a club above them as, if they do, I fear we may not be above them for long.
Now for the line-up. The back 4 acquitted themselves well for the most-part at Luton, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the back 4 stay the same, but the added pace and drive of Darnell Fisher coming back after a knock that kept him from the starting side at the weekend could see Alan Browne moved elsewhere.
My pick is a 4-2-3-1, the classic Neil shape, lining up with Declan Rudd in goal, Darnell Fisher, Patrick Bauer, Ben Davies and Andrew Hughes across the back 4. Ben Pearson holding in midfield with Daniel Johnson occupying the other deeper central position. I’ve picked DJ over Gallagher as I think Neil may prioritise mobility in this one, especially considering that Cardiff can adapt their shape to be very narrow in the defensive phase and really pack the midfield.
Further forward I’ll go with a supporting trio of Tom Barkhuizen, Josh Harrop, who I want to see Alex Neil have considerable more faith in, and Sean Maguire moved back out to the position from which I believe he puts in his best showings, behind a lone centre forward. Given David Nugent’s uninspiring minutes in the second half last Saturday at Luton, I can’t see him upsetting the applecart too much and Jayden Stockley is perhaps too much neither one thing nor the other; not aerial enough to compete with Flint and Bamba but not mobile enough to get the better of them on the turf. I would like to see Scott Sinclair given an outing through the middle and show us what he can do as the main man up top.
So that’s; Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Johnson; Barkhuizen, Harrop, Maguire; Sinclair. Lining up like this gives us good technicality and mobility through the core of the team, and could be best for trying to get the better of a physical Cardiff side.
Let us know your predictions by getting in touch with us on our socials. We’re on twitter here – @fromthefinney, Facebook here – From the Finney and Instagram here – @fromthefinney. Make sure you give us a follow if you aren’t already.
Finally, if you haven’t listened to last week’s rather passionate instalment of the podcast from Jake and the boys, it’s visible just below. Toward the end of the episode, the lads look ahead to the Cardiff game and make some predictions. You simply have to hit play but be warned, it’s not one for the faint of heart.