Monday night is probably being looked at by some fans as must-win. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that myself but it’s a big game. I would argue that it’s early enough in the season to have this ‘blip’, that’s even if you can call two defeats on the trot a blip.
Our unbeaten home record is on the line on Monday night when we come up against an in-form West Brom side who have won more of their points away from home this season than they have at home.
Their only loss of the season was away at Elland Road back at the start of October, aside from that, they have won 6 of their other 8 games away from the Hawthorns with the 2 stalemates coming away at Derby County and away at Fulham.
We have had a shocker of a week, let’s be honest. There have been fans falling out online, ‘superfans’ tweeting stuff and deleting then swiftly deleting hours later after a barrage of abuse other fans having a go at people for not being able to get to Hull on a Wednesday night to support the team.
I could go on and on with a plethora of other stuff but I haven’t even mentioned the poor first half against Deby County on Saturday and the shambles that Wednesday night turned into but I think people need to just take a step back, look at where we are in the league, look at the start to the season we have had and realise that actually, we aren’t in a bad position.
I recently published a piece doing just that, in fact. In it, I also mentioned that Trevor Hemmings and co need to learn from the past and back their manager in the upcoming January transfer window.
Are we capable of the top 2? In my opinion, absolutely. Is it possible? Tough but I would say yes it is. Ultimately, what has bitten us on the arse so far this season is poor results against lower to mid-table sides.
1-0 defeats to 14th placed Derby County and 18th placed Reading respectively, a 1-1 draw with 20th placed Middlesbrough and the opening day defeat at Millwall could be the type of results that come back to haunt us come May but we have the second half of the season to put those results right.
As has been pointed out on twitter in the last few days, Sheffield United who I’m sure most people remember as being up and around the upper echelons of the Championship for the most part of last season, were in the exact same position as we are right now after 18 games. An almost identical record too, we have scored 2 more and conceded 1 more than they had.
We all know how their season ended up so if we can get out of this spell we have had with the 2 back-to-back defeats then with what we have at the moment, I see no reason we can’t push back on again.
Where to start with Slaven Bilic’s side? You have the two key-men in that side at the moment in Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana who are two names on everyone’s lips at the moment and rightly so. On loan from Sporting and West Ham respectively, these two have lit up the Championship so far this season.
They have contributed 20 of West Brom’s 35 goals this season between them and you could say that if we shut them down, you shut West Brom down. That wouldn’t be too far from the truth however, there’s one other player of note that arguably, is the cog that keeps this side ticking over.
That one player is Romaine Sawyers. He has the highest pass success rate of any West Brom player at 92% (granted, Gareth Barry has a 92.2% pass success rate but he’s made one substitute appearance and therefore doesn’t count). Sawyers also averages 1.3 key passes per game.
To say he is the man that links everything together for the Baggies would be an understatement.
Also, a name that some of you may remember for Euro 2016 heroics for Wales; Hal Robson-Kanu.
The Welshman has scored 5 goals in the last 7 games including the only goal in a 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Boro.
Overall though, Albion have a whole host of quality, all over the pitch. From Preston-born Sam Johnstone in goal to Semi Ajayi and Kyle Bartley in the centre of defence, to those we have mentioned in middle of the park and then with options like Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin at the top end of the pitch, it is sure to be a tough game on Monday night.
They say that statistics speak for themselves and that certainly is the case with the Albion. Only losing to Leeds so far this season and unbeaten at home since February, Bilic’s reign so far has been both evolutionary and revolutionary.
The Croatian has released Albion, as a club, from the shackles of the last three seasons. With a solid mix of flair, organisation, unity and stylish link play, we’re playing like a side that has nothing to lose but also hates losing games of football.
The side that beat you 4-1 at The Hawthorns looks like a long-distance memory, despite the fact that four of the spine of the team remain the same.
With Super Slav at the helm, Sam Johnstone looks comfortable on the ball and has made key saves in big moments, Kyle Bartley has looked unshakable, Jake Livermore looks ten times the player he was last year and Hal Robson Kanu has gone from a name met with a sigh to a striker in hot form.
Prudent purchases alongside some clever loan moves have turned Albion from a team of individuals to a free-flowing unit to be feared.
Matheus Pereira or Grady Diangana will get all the plaudits for their hand in the sexy side of the game but the team is built on Birmingham-born Romaine Sawyers, who cost Albion £1.5m from Brentford.
All the play is through him, he collects the ball from deep (something we unduly lacked last season whilst trying to play out from the back) and is able to carry it forward.
Finally, The Hawthorns has its entertainment back. This is what the club has been calling out for since the turgid days of Tony Pulis.
Prior to the season starting, if you had asked me where I thought we would finish, I’d have probably said just outside the playoffs. Then, Bilic was something of an unknown quantity on the back of a spell in Saudi Arabia and we were on the back of a huge hangover following play-off defeat at Villa.
However, we’ve absolutely shot out of the blocks and in current form, I’d be disappointed if we didn’t go up automatically.
Unlike last year, we look like a side who teams are fearful to play against and are making quality teams (ie. Bristol City, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Hull City) look average.
Hopefully, we won’t do a Leeds and ‘fall apart’ towards spring!
The team pretty much picks itself and the tactics are consistent, unlike under Moore when a different XI and shape was picked every week – Gayle wide left for example.
This season though, its a little more predictable, but Bilic’s incredible tactical nous has the ability to switch it up. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a manager who knows when to make a sub and reads the flow of the game so well.
The formation will be 4-2-3-1 and avoiding any major injury troubles, the team will line up as it was against Bristol City: Johnstone; Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Gibbs; Livermore, Sawyers; Phillips, Pereira, Diangana; Hal Robson-Kanu.
I’ve got a tendency to put my foot in it by saying something and the exact opposite happening, so I’ve got to be careful here! I haven’t seen much of Preston this year but, looking at the numbers, you’ve stuck to your style that impressed so many last season.
Our side, and I hope I’m not getting too big-headed, look invincible. We were struggling for a goalscorer early in the season but HRK, and Austin to an extent have finally hit some form.
If Sawyers is kept quiet, you’ve got a greater chance of winning the game. Any side that has been drawn into a kicking game with our attacking line up has subsequently lost. I’m sure that Alex Neil will be aware of our intent though and will have figured a plan out to stop our fluid movement.
Whatever happens, I think this side has stronger mental strength, willpower and unity to be deflated for too long after a defeat. Still, I think we’ll win and I will say 2-1 Albion.
This one is tough. I think in equal measure that our home record could be no more come 10pm on Monday night but also that we could all be bouncing down Sir Tom Finney Way or Lowthorpe Road after another memorable night under the lights at Deepdale.
I will punt for a 1-1 draw. I think we will set up to make it difficult for West Brom and will manage to nick a goal ourselves at some stage. Either to draw us back level or we will go ahead, similar perhaps to the Leeds United game.
That was the relatively easy bit, though. Making an XI prediction for this game will be difficult but I will go for a 4-2-3-1 formation as usual, with the following personnel: Rudd; Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty; Pearson, Gallagher; Bodin, Johnson, Barkhuizen; Nugent.
Fisher will come back in, I think Davies will be passed fit and Maguire and Browne will both be on the bench. Alan Browne is apparently struggling with his hamstring which is why he was out against Hull on Wednesday night so he could, in fact, miss out altogether.
Sean Maguire just looks like he needs a rest. A rest or a goal. I think the manager will give him a breather though and then use him to come on and stretch the game.
Finally, the club have backed a fan-run campaign to get Deepdale rocking on Monday night. Fair play to the folks over at @PNEhomeandaway on twitter for kick-starting this and fair play to the club for getting behind it and giving it their full backing. The new ‘surfer flag’ will also be making its debut at Deepdale tomorrow night too and it looks bloody brilliant!
🙌 The club are supporting a fan-led campaign for the West Bromwich Albion fixture at Deepdale, with all supporters encouraged to bring their voice and their scarf to the match!
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) November 24, 2019
📸 Here it is… 🙌
Well done to all involved and all of the fans who donated towards the surfer flag, fantastic effort from all those who came together to make it happen! 💙
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) November 30, 2019
What do you think will go down at Deepdale on Monday night? Let us know on twitter how you think the game will go. Just hit this link to give us a follow – @fromthefinney.