The end of the first month of the season is quickly approaching and North End entertain a very highly rated Stoke City side who many fans and pundits tipped for promotion at the beginning of the campaign. This will be the second game of the season at Deepdale and the first under the lights as Nathan Jones’ men try and get their first win in the league this season after losing 2 and drawing their third at the weekend against Derby County.

If we look at North End’s start to this campaign compared to other years, we have achieved 1 win out of 3 before the clash with The Potters. Last season North End recorded a win, a loss and a draw in their first 3 league games with the draw coming at home against Stoke, almost a year to the day, in a game that was also in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

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The season before that Preston also recorded a win, a draw and a loss in their first 3 games showing this season has actually been the worst start in terms of the first 3 results in the league since Alex Neil took charge.

Recent Form

Alex Neil’s men head into this encounter in less than convincing form yet are playing with confidence. Putting aside a poor performance at Millwall, North End have been the better side in their last 3 games including thrashings of Wigan and Bradford as well as a dominant first-half display at Swansea. A performance in which Alex Neil admitted his side “should have been out of sight by half time” despite losing the game 3-2.

The Swansea game certainly should have highlighted to the gaffer the weaknesses within our defence whom it seems, struggle to defend crosses, especially those being pulled back into the box from the by-line. 3 of Swansea’s 4 shots on target resulted in goals which all came from crosses into the box proving that it is something North End need to correct and quickly.

If we take a look at Stoke, they have also had a poor start to the campaign. With no wins from their first two league games, they’ve suffered defeats to QPR at home on the opening day of the season with a goal from ex-PNE frontman Jordan Hugill. Next up, they lost away at Charlton with two late Charlton goals which just added to their poor start to the campaign.

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Then Stoke played at Wigan in the cup where Nathan Jones’ side picked up their first victory of the season. An early goal from Sam Vokes earned Stoke a second-round tie with fellow championship rivals Leeds United who they will play twice in 3 days due to the draw and the way the fixtures have fallen.

Before the Preston game, Stoke had a Midlands derby against Derby County which ended in a 2-2 draw with a brace from Scott Hogan earning Stoke their first point of the season despite a Martyn Waghorn double for Phillip Cocu’s Rams.

So, heading into this game, neither side is really in great form but I think Preston will be the happier of the two sets of fans coming into this one with us still providing relatively solid performances, even if they haven’t produced the results, whereas Stoke’s performances of late have been less than impressive and that’s evident in the fact they only have a solitary point on the board.

Potential Dangers

The first player I would say could be a potential danger for North End on Wednesday night is on-loan Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan. Hogan made his name at Championship level in his time with Brentford where he scored 21 goals in 33 appearances. This earned him a move to Villa Park in a deal believed to have risen to £12 million in total.

Despite making over 50 appearances for Villa, he has never really been the first-choice striker and hasn’t recaptured his scoring form at Villa as he had at Brentford. This led to him being loaned out to Sheffield United last campaign where he was part of their promotion side but only made 8 appearances scoring 2 goals.

Now Hogan finds himself with Stoke and in the last two league games, he has started upfront with free summer signing Lee Gregory. Hogan learnt his trade in non-league with various clubs and you can see that in the way he plays with his hard work and the graft that he puts into every performance.

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The next player I would say is a potential danger for North End is Mark Duffy, another loanee from newly-promoted Premier League side, Sheffield United. Duffy was made available after being told by manager Chris Wilder that he was surplus to requirements in the upcoming season and so on deadline day he made the move to the midlands.

Duffy is a player who I personally would have loved at Deepdale and think he would have been a great addition, bringing experience at this level and creativity. Duffy has helped Sheffield United get promotion from both League 1 and the Championship and is considered a cult hero at the club. He is a player who gives everything for his side and certainly proves important in big moments scoring and assisting in key situations. With Preston seemingly struggling to deal with crosses recently, Duffy’s creativity may prove tricky for North End on Wednesday night.

The final player I think may prove to be a danger come Wednesday evening is Peter Etebo. The Nigerian international joined stoke from Portuguese club Feirense in a deal worth £6.35m and became Gary Rowett’s first signing. Whilst playing in Portugal he helped Feirense gain promotion to the top division and then helped them to within 2 points European qualification.

In January 2016 he won most promising talent of the year award at the ‘CAF Awards’ showing how highly rated he has been throughout his career. In terms of his international career, Etebo has made 33 appearances for Nigeria scoring 1 goal.

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He was included in Nigeria’s squad for the most recent World Cup in Russia where he started in all of Nigeria’s 3 group stage matches before being knocked due to Argentina and Croatia going through from Group D.

The midfielder is known for driving from deep positions and pushing his team forward which could prove to be a weakness for Preston who it seems are prone to conceding goals against the run of play fairly often, a prime example last time out at Swansea.

Opposition View

This week’s Opposition View comes to you from the good folks over at The Wizards of Drivel Podcast. You can check out their website – wizardsofdrivel.com and you can follow them on twitter here – @WizardsofDrivel.

A glance at the league table, even at this early stage, would probably suggest that thing’s aren’t going to plan and the fanbase is in a state of panic or anger.

However, I don’t feel I’m speaking for myself when I say I’m really positive about the season ahead and what Nathan Jones will achieve for Stoke City. While we’re yet to get off the ground with a win, we’re making tremendous progress, particularly when it comes to creating chances. Now only, if we could put those chances away…

After an opening day defeat to QPR, the panic button was pushed by the fanbase. Understandably so. Jones’ favoured diamond formation looked problematic and our front two of Vokes and Afobe barely threatened a pretty ordinary defence. Afobe, jeered off the pitch after his substitution, was loaned out. McClean and Smith looked unsure of themselves at fullback and there was another opening-day rick from Jack Butland. Not a happy time.

After Rowett, Jones spent the latter half of last season stabilising. This meant not much entertainment, but we were incredibly tough to beat. While we only won three games, this was a big learning curve for Jones. After QPR though, we were asking what the point of this learning curve was, as on the surface, little progress was made.

Then we lost 3-1 at Charlton. However, there was more encouragement to be found there. We’d created the chances to win the game and a late defensive lapse cost us when we were going full pelt for three points. The manager earned himself brownie points by owning up to a naïve substitution when looking for a second goal.

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Then, following an encouraging 1-0 league cup win at Wigan, we drew 2-2 against Derby County. It was so much better than the last home performance, and a game we really ought to have won (see Joe Allen missing an open net from 2 yards out, see Tom Ince hitting the woodwork from close range).

So, bottom of the table, yes, but we’re seeing progress on a game by game basis. Previously our issue was not creating chances, now our problem is not converting the many chances we create. That will change. While we continue to wait for a win, the Jones sceptics will grow in volume, but as our manager is fond of reminding us, it’s a ‘process’. We’re fourth in the xG table, have conceded the fewest shots in the league (but the most goals, go figure), and are among the top sides for chance creation.

The Welshman has assembled a team with a strong work ethic and a commitment to playing good football. Lee Gregory is an instant hit for his Jon Walters-esque dogged work in the forward line. Ryan Woods is experiencing a renaissance at the base of the diamond. Liam Lindsay could be the signing of the summer and we have the truly fantastic Peter Etebo to come back into the fold.

After three years of misery, poor performances and disgraceful attitudes from some players, this is a welcome relief. God willing, the green shoots of recovery will grow further and start to bear fruit.

XI Prediction (4-4-2 diamond): Butland; Smith, Lindsay, Batth, McClean; Woods; Etebo, Clucas; Ince; Gregory, Hogan

Score prediction: 2-2

Prediction

This game is again hard to call as both teams aren’t on a good run of results in the league and play similar types of systems with a high press from back to front, however, I think Preston will come out 2-1 winners in what will be a tight affair. In my opinion Jayden Stockley would be a perfect selection for this game with Moult spending what is being described as a “lengthy spell” on the sideline.

Stockley would be able to handle the physicality of the stoke defenders and hopefully give North End a bit of joy come Wednesday evening. My XI prediction for this game would be: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher, Johnson; Barkhuizen, Bodin, Stockley.

What do you think to the predictions? Let us know on twitter (@FromtheFinney). Also,if you haven’t listened yet, you can listen to the latest episode of the From the Finney Podcast by just hitting play on the web player below.