North End return to action this weekend after the international break and will line up for the first time since August 2017, without being managed by Alex Neil.
Frankie McAvoy, Alex Neil’s former assistant, has been named as the interim head coach for the remainder of the campaign with the sole aim of ensuring safety and his reign will start with the visit of his former club Norwich City.
It’s the first of two games this Easter weekend, and I don’t think either of them are fixtures that will fill North End fans with confidence.
Norwich are first up and many of their squad have featured for their countries during the international break so it’s certainly going to be an interesting encounter at Deepdale. With McAvoy calling for the fans to “stick with us”, I think a positive performance might help to inject a bit of positivity back into the club.
But a result and performance against the table-toppers is no easy task. Norwich were in fine form going into the international break with 9 wins and 1 draw from their last 10 games. You’ve got to go back to February 5th for their last defeat against the side currently in 3rd, Swansea City.
Daniel Farke is a very well respected manager at this level and has got his side scoring goals as well as being very resilient at the back, two things that North End have struggled to find consistency with all season long.
It’s a day that in normal circumstances, would be one that the fans would be bang up for. Facing the league leaders on our own patch, over the Easter weekend and in normal times, I’m sure it would be some atmosphere in PR1. I think everyone is in agreement that we are only a couple of results, perhaps only a win and draw, away from being able to consider ourselves safe from the threat of relegation, and the sooner those results come, the better.
The first player I would like to pick out as a danger is Norwich’s, Todd Cantwell. The Norwich City academy graduate was a late call up for England under-21s during the most recent International break as Mason Greenwood had to drop out due to injury.
The creative midfielder who is also comfortable as a winger has been the subject of a lot of Premier League interest since Norwich were relegated from the top-flight last season. However, barring an absolutely catastrophic collapse, it appears they will be heading straight back to the promised land after a fantastic campaign and Cantwell will get his chance to shine in the Premier League again.
Cantwell has managed to grab himself nine goal contributions this campaign, featuring 25 times in the Championship for the Canaries. He is known for some spectacular finishes, very similar to former Norwich player James Maddison, and will prove to be a real handful against North End come Friday afternoon.
Secondly, I would like to pick out Norwich’s Finnish talisman, Teemu Pukki. One of the best strikers to play at this level in recent history in my opinion, Pukki has excelled in the second tier again this campaign, getting 22 goals in his 34 appearances.
At the age of 31, Pukki is still representing his national side and he has scored 3 goals in this international break, including a brace against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Pukki is a striker who loves to get in behind and is very clinical. He did manage to get on the scoresheet in the reverse fixture between these two sides, which finished 2-2 as Darnell Fisher managed to get on the scoresheet for the first time for the Lilywhites at Carrow Road.
However, Pukki will be coming back from international duty for Norwich and Daniel Farke has made it clear that he’s going to have to rotate his squad for the game at Deepdale.
We have an opposition view this week from Norwich City fan and reporter for The Pink Un, Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News, Connor Southwell. You can find Connor on Twitter here – @cjsouthwell1902. Over to Connor…
I think it’s only right to start by saying that Norwich City don’t blame Preston North End for the circumstances of this fixture.
The frustration, both inside the walls at Colney and amongst supporters lies with EFL, who they feel should have done more to protect their players after they jetted off around the world to compete for their countries. That’s before we debate the fact international football is being played during a global pandemic.
If the shoe was on the other foot, the Canaries would be wearing it in the same manner as Preston.
Just to throw in here, as Farke speaks about Alex Neil’s departure.
I did contact the EFL who refused to comment publicly but did offer some guidance. In essence, Preston needed to agree to change the fixture, they didn’t. Case closed. #NCFC— Connor Southwell (@cjsouthwell1902) April 1, 2021
This isn’t the side at the summit of the table looking to take the pressure off, this is a legitimate concern and the facts are simple, the EFL have let Norwich down. The frustration increases when you see that Brentford’s game has been moved to Saturday for television coverage.
To ask players to ‘go again’ less than 48 hours is a dangerous precedent to set, not just for Norwich but for future decisions. If Barnsley would have seen half their first team unavailable due to internationals it could ruin their season.
Let’s be clear, City have enough depth to pull through. But they are being asked to commit an act of self-harm. Either they rest their players and risk defeat, or play them and risk severe injury. It’s not a trade off any head coach should be asked to make.
I know small violins will be playing amongst Preston fans reading this. That’s a perfectly understandable response. But the stakes are so high, and for many in this City squad, it’s their last shot at promotion.
There is no blame attached to Preston. It is not their fault.
In many ways, City may use the circumstances to fuel their performance. That siege mentality is often one capable of having a devastating effect. Regardless of the starting XI that City field, it will still contain plenty of quality.
Frankie McAvoy, the man leading Preston, worked briefly with Daniel Farke after Alex Neil left the club. He was well-respected inside the club and there’s a humility behind him because of his background as a postman. City will be hoping this is one time where he doesn’t deliver.
As for the game itself? Well, if Farke doesn’t know what his side will look like, neither do Preston or anyone trying to make accurate assumptions or predictions about the game. It will be an intriguing one. I doubt the noise levels will fade away post-match, either.
Ched Evans made a comment during the pre-match conference, and I think most would agree with him, “Preston generally perform better against the teams that want to play.” In the past, we have turned up against the top sides, and you’d be hard pushed to find a tougher opposition than this Norwich side at the moment.
With players such as Jordan Hugill, Oliver Skipp, Max Aarons, Onel Hernandez, Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia to name just a few, this squad is littered with quality. But with a change of management and voice on the training field, will that give North End the boost needed to pull off a shock result on Friday afternoon?
On social media, the club have tried to provide more of a positive feel this week by sharing clips of training sessions and numerous images of different players from training and credit to them, it’s been well received I think.
📽️ 𝗜𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝗘𝘂𝘅𝘁𝗼𝗻: 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗧𝗲𝗮𝗺 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗶𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) March 25, 2021
Get a glimpse of the first training session under interim head coach Frankie McAvoy earlier this week.
Watch more on iFollow PNE now. 👇#pnefc
As for a starting XI prediction, Frankie may well want to play very different to how Alex Neil has in the past, but for now I’m going to go with the usual 4-2-3-1 set up and say we will see: Iversen; Sepp van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Cunningham; Ledson, Whiteman; Sinclair, Johnson, Gordon; Evans.
That would mean just one change to the side Alex Neil picked in what turned out to be his final game, with Greg Cunningham hopefully being fit enough to take his position at left-back. There will also be no Alan Browne with the skipper still serving a suspension following on from his dismissal at Middlesbrough prior to the international break. He has, however, had a good time away from the club with Ireland as he scored his first competitive goal for his country.
As for a scoreline, I’m going to go with a 1-1 draw. The league leaders are eight points clear of second with eight games remaining and will be hoping to keep the gap to keep them in good stead to finish as Champions.
Let’s hope it’s a positive result and social media will be a pleasant place to be on Friday evening. Not listened to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast with Ross Wallace yet? Hit play below or find the episode in your usual streaming platforms.