We have played 2 home games played so far this season and 2 wins. The perfect start to the season for Preston North End in front of their own fans, something we’ve not been great at in recent seasons. The 3-1 win over Stoke on Wednesday night was a clear signal of how far PNE have come under Alex Neil.
It wasn’t perhaps the most polished performance, but North End controlled the game from the start and never really looked threatened against a Potters side that were competing in the Premier League just two seasons ago. Indeed, the only blot on the copybook was James McClean’s late consolation in the 89th minute. Aside from that though, it was a relatively trouble-free evening at the office. You can read our match review from the game here.
PNE go into Saturday’s game against top of the table Sheffield Wednesday, you would presume, full of confidence. The Championship is all about momentum, and stringing together a couple of wins early doors, especially given North End’s shaky start to last season, could be vital.
After a disappointing defeat to Millwall on the opening day of the season, after which Neil admitted his side “hadn’t done enough” to earn a result, PNE responded in the best way possible in the first home game of the season. Wigan came to Deepdale a week later and couldn’t cope with a vintage performance from the Alex Neil’s men, who ran out 3-0 winners.
A 3-2 defeat to Swansea followed, although North End dominated for large parts of the first half and were perhaps unlucky not to have the game wrapped up by then. The concern there was the manner in which the goals were conceded but you have to hope that it’s something we look to improve on.
PNE again responded last night, recording a comfortable victory under the lights against Nathan Jones’ Stoke City who sit bottom of the table after 4 games.
Saturday’s opponents, Sheffield Wednesday, have had an almost perfect start to the season. Despite the chaos surrounding manager Steve Bruce’s departure to Newcastle midway through pre-season, the Owls have appointed club legend Lee Bullen as caretaker manager and I think it’s safe to say he’s done a sterling job since his appointment.
When Wednesday arrive at Deepdale on Saturday, Bullen will most likely still hold the title of caretaker but you can bet he’ll be pushing for the manager’s job and a win in Lancashire would do his chances no harm. Prior to arriving at Deepdale though, he has presided over several impressive victories.
The Owls travelled to Reading on the opening day and, despite a slightly comical Kieran Westwood red card, came out 3-1 winners thanks to Kadeem Harris, Sam Hutchinson and a stoppage-time strike from substitute Lucas Joao.
Wednesday followed that up with a 2-0 home win over local rivals Barnsley, new signing Jacob Murphy and Steven Fletcher ensuring each of their five goals so far had been shared equally. They then made the trip down to Millwall but were unable to break down a strong Lions defence, Matt Smith consigning them to a 1-0 defeat. Finally, like North End, they then won their opening midweek game of the season, defeating Luton 1-0 at Hillsborough.
Sheffield Wednesday may not be as much of a free-spending side as they were under Carlos Carvalhal, but they have operated shrewdly in this year’s transfer market. They have released big earners such as George Boyd, Almen Abdi and Marco Matias, and received a substantial undisclosed fee for Portuguese striker Joao.
One of their replacements, Kadeem Harris, knows this is his big chance at Championship football after his release from Cardiff. 26-year-old Harris is a player that has always impressed when on the pitch but found himself down the pecking order for Neil Warnock’s side. At Hillsborough, he is flourishing already, with two goals in four appearances already.
The wage budget has dropped considerably at the club, but they have retained the services of experienced striker Steven Fletcher. Scotland international Fletcher guarantees you goals at this level, with 11 last season and 1 to his name already this campaign. Besides his goal threat, Fletcher’s intelligent movement off the ball and hold up play should be a thorn in North End’s side on Saturday if he plays.
The third player who could be one to wacth out for is midfielder Sam Hutchinson. The ex-Chelsea man has a Ben Pearson-esque yellow card record, with his most productive season in terms of playing time (33 games in 2016/2017) yielding 11 yellow cards and two reds. He has two in four so far this campaign, much like our beloved no. 4.
That points towards a player who is very confident in the tackle, and Hutchinson has been marshalling Wednesday’s midfield for many years when fit. He also popped up with a rare goal in the win over Reading, and the battle in the centre of the park between him and Pearson could potentially decide which way the game goes.
Many thanks to Ed, @opinionofanowl on twitter, for providing this week’s Opposition View.
In terms of our start, it has been so far, so good. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding this season due to the departure of Steve Bruce, yet we seem to have put that behind us. Lee Bullen is doing a sterling job standing in and many feel he should get the job permanently.
New signings Murphy, Harris, Börner and Odubajo have all greatly impressed and look to be impressive additions.
I think Wednesday have the potential to sneak into the play-offs, yet a top 10 finish would be more than respectable, in my eyes anyway.
Many players have been key to this great start, however, one man has given us levels of excitement in attack not seen for a while – Kadeem Harris. On a free from Cardiff he has already bagged two goals – whilst creating plenty of chances for others.
I think the Owls will line up in a 433 formation:
Westwood; Odubajo, Lees, Börner, Fox; Lee, Hutchinson, Reach; Harris, Fletcher, Murphy
My score prediction is – Preston North End 0-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Given how this fixture ended last season – a 3-3 draw at Deepdale – you’d be forgiven for opting not to give a prediction for this one. You’d expect goals from both sides once again, with North End having scored six in two home games already and Wednesday having their own goal threats.
The Owls have had a good start under Bullen, and I expect them to bring that momentum to Deepdale, but I feel like PNE will be just too strong against their own fans. I am going to go with a 2-1 win for North End.
As for my XI prediction, I am going to go with the following: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Bodin, Johnson, Harrop; Barkhuizen.
What do you think about the game on Saturday against the Owls? How do you think we will get on, will there be goals? Let us know on social media, we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @fromthefinney. Finally, if you haven’t yet listened to the From the Finney Podcast, two things. 1. Why not? 2. Here you go…