Match Preview: Preston North End Vs. Watford

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It’s a quick turnaround from the derby day delight at the weekend as Alex Neil’s focus turns to Watford visiting Deepdale on Tuesday night. North End will be looking to close the gap on the play-offs after a very impressive performance at Ewood Park on Friday night.

A fine strike from Greg Cunningham and a header from Liam Lindsay saw North End take all 3 points and the bragging rights (again) in Lancashire during the two clubs’ 100th league meeting.

Watford faced Bristol City, going into the game without a win in the last 3 games and put in a very impressive performance against a struggling Bristol City as the Hornets netted six past Dean Holden’s side. The visitors to Deepdale on Tuesday had 5 different scorers on Saturday afternoon, going into half time 4-0 up.

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However, Watford haven’t been in inspiring form away from Vicarage Road this campaign, with just three wins from 14 on the road all season. They have also failed to score in 57% of their away matches, but with 7 draws, they could sit back which is something we have struggled to break down this campaign.

Potential Dangers

The first player I would highlight as a danger for North End is João Pedro. Although still being just 19, the youngster has a very bright future in English football and has shown the Hornets’ faithful his true potential.

He can play as a winger or in the number 9 role and is always a threat. He’s managed 7 goal contributions this season which is very respectable for a teenager competing with a veteran like Troy Deeney for a place in the starting XI.

If Watford don’t end up getting promotion this campaign, I would imagine a number of Premier League clubs will be happy to take the hot prospect away from Vicarage Road in the summer.

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Secondly, I would like to pick out Watford’s winger, Ismaïla Sarr. The Senegal international is versatile and can play across any positions in the front 3. As well as his versatility, he’s a goal threat and has 11 goal contributions (7G, 4A) in the league this campaign.

It was a surprise to many that the winger stayed in the Championship last month after Premier League interest last summer, but it appears the price tag put even the likes of Manchester United off the deal.

There’s no doubt that the winger is up there with the best in the league, and on his day, can take any game by the scruff of the neck and produce that bit of magic to win 3 points. Indeed, that’s something he did during his last appearance where he managed to get 2 goals along with 2 assists in the 6-0 drubbing of Bristol City.

Opposition View

This week, our opposition view section is a bit different to usual. The two co-hosts of the Voices of the Vic podcast (@VoicesoftheVic), Mike (@MikeDuffy_25) and Ben (@BenAiton23), give their thoughts on Watford’s season to date and much more. Enjoy!

The Season so Far

Mike – Coming back down from the Prem with the squad we have, on paper, you’d have thought we’d be in the Top 2 by now. As we all know, football is not played on paper.

Two managers into the campaign already, in true Watford fashion. (Coincidentally, the 2014/15 promotion campaign saw us have more than 1 manager that season too – a sign? We will see!) The season started with hope and excitement to see how we were going to fare back in the Championship for the first time since 2014/15, under Vladimir Ivic. 

Vlad’s record outside of England was very impressive, winning the league with Maccabi Tel Aviv back to back. Maccabi Tel Aviv had only conceded 10 goals all season too in Ivic’s last season in charge of them (we almost conceded that amount in the one game last season when we were on the end of 8-0 hiding to Man City!).

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Now, we all know that the Israel league is not to be compared to the English second tier but a winning mentality such as Ivic’s was surely only going to reap the benefit for the Watford side (worth noting too that Slavisa Jokanovic came from the managing in the likes of the Thai & Bulgarian leagues and nobody had heard of him too! The rest is history as they say!).

Ivic was known for liking to get his teams 2 ahead and then shutting up shop to keep the clean sheet and was known for attacking free flowing football. When we heard that it was music to our ears after such a horrid season in the Premier League, shipping goals and finding it hard to score them.

We kicked off the 2020/21 Championship season at home to Middlesbrough and won 1-0 thanks to a Cathcart header, Christ it was a tough watch. Albeit that Ivic didn’t have a full squad to his disposal for the first few months of his Watford career.

What followed, as the months went on, was flat performances and hardly any sign of scoring more than 1. Defensively we were much better but my god it was like watching paint dry at times and far from the “attacking, free flowing football” we were told about prior to his appointment. The players started to cause a bit of unrest behind the scenes and you could tell it was tough enough to work with/for Vlad as he was the most stonefaced bloke I’ve ever seen. He would give the ‘Barrister’ off The Chase a run for his money.

Fast forward to Huddersfield away, a game we really should be winning (no offence Huddersfield) and it was crap. Lost 2-0 and add into the mix a “disciplinary problem” with Troy Deeney (which turned out to be nothing) and Ivic was axed.

Right coach at the wrong time for Watford I would say. So, in came Xisco Munoz. First press conference, a big smile and very happy go lucky type of character. Little bit concerning that he doesn’t have the qualifications to manage in the Premier League but hey ho. Came fresh from the Georgian league (uh oh, here we go again – appointing unknown managers from unknown leagues), won the league with Dinamo Tbilsi.

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First game was just the small task of Norwich at home, the in form team in the league at the time (Gulp!). Wow, straight away we were getting forward and attacking with a little more intent and that ‘new manager bounce’ was well installed that night. Upon the final whistle, jubilation between the players. Smiling, hugging and team unity. The manager smiling and celebrating with players.

Judging off that one game, there are signs that this could be the bloke to make us ‘click’ on the team and get us shooting up the table. New manager bounce started to wear off a bit after a few naff performances and Munoz’s stubborn approach with not changing the 4-4-2 system (whereby he played CM Will Hughes out wide and two strikers Andre Gray & Troy Deeney who, it’s safe to say, aren’t enjoying their best spells in front of goal).

Up until our last game, 6-0 v Bristol City, there were calls for his head. Funnily enough, after that performance it’s gone a little bit quiet from the “Xisco Out” brigade. 

Hopefully this big result with a formation that actually works for our players means we can get ourselves on a good run of form at the right time of the season.

Hopes for the Season

Mike – Before the season started, it had to be winning the league. I personally had us to finish 4th and losing out in the PO Final, in true Watford fashion (in my table prediction at the start of the season).

The aim is automatics but my word Brentford & Swansea are flying! Norwich, despite beating Stoke, look a bit shaky at the back so will be interesting to see which way they go from here. Play-offs is too much of a lottery and my heart isn’t ready for that. I’ve been through 3 play-off campaigns that I’m old enough to remember and we’ve won 1 of them outright.

Ben Automatic promotion for me. We need to close the gap on the top two if we have any chance of Automatic Promotion though. It’s going to be a tough one with the teams up there playing ever so well at the moment but if we can put a decent run together of 10-15 unbeaten games then we’ll definitely be breathing down their necks towards the end of the season & anything can happen.

Line Up Prediction

Mike & Ben – Bachmann; Femenia, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Masina; Cleverley, Chalobah, Hughes; Sarr, João Pedro, Sema. (Unchanged from winning 6-0, who’d be mad enough to change that side?!).

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Score Prediction

Mike – A real tough one, I didn’t want to bring this up and I definitely don’t want a load of angry Preston fans in my mentions on Twitter but you boys have the 3rd worst home record in the division (only Wycombe and Birmingham have picked up less points at home). Luckily for you, we’re shoddy away from home. We’re both coming into the game off the back of good wins (a derby day win for you boys and an emphatic win for us).

I’ll say 2-1 to us, will be tightly contested.

Ben – Deepdale is always a tough place to go for us, so not expecting it to be a pretty watch.

Preston’s home form gives me some hope though & with us winning 6-0 at the weekend I think we’ll be full of confidence. Going for a 2-0 Watford win, Sarr to score twice.

Prediction

As we look to get back to back wins in the league for the first time since the end of December, Watford is not an easy game. They are resilient and very hard to break down on the road, which is something North End have really struggled to deal with at Deepdale this season.

I believe this may have something to do with no real encouragement from the stands which in my opinion, would massively help North End at the moment.

It will be interesting to see if Alex Neil will go back to his usual 4-2-3-1 system or stick with the 3-5-2 system that worked so well on Friday night. The two wing-backs combined to score the first goal and the three centre backs were very solid throughout the 90 minutes.

I would personally like to see the 3-5-2 used again, but personally, I think Alex Neil will want to go more attacking to try and creatively break down his opponents on Tuesday night.

As for a starting XI, I’m unsure what system Neil will choose to approach the game with, but assuming he goes with the same system that worked to perfection on Friday night, I will go with; Iversen; Storey, Lindsay, Hughes; Browne (RWB), Ledson, Johnson, Whiteman, Cunningham (LWB); Evans, Sinclair.

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That’s one change from the side that was victorious last time out with Scott Sinclair to come in for Tom Barkhuizen. Ched Evans will almost certainly retain his place up top after a brilliant performance at Ewood Park.

I would hope to see Jordan Storey get another game as he was excellent against Blackburn after being brought in from the cold and I would love to see the former Exeter man build himself a bit of confidence.

As for the scoreline, I’m going to predict a 1-1.

I think it will be a tight game that isn’t exactly one for a neutral in terms of how Watford tend to set up away from home. But after an excellent result for the Hornets at the weekend, they will be coming to Deepdale full of confidence and hoping to get their promotion push back on track after a couple of poor results.

If you haven’t listened to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast, check out our post-Rovers win episode from Friday night below.

Finally, the latest episode of the podcast is out now. It’s a From the Finney Meets… with former striker and scorer of that goal against Manchester City, Jon Macken.