Here we go again. More than 3 months after our last home league outing, the lilywhites are back on home turf at Deepdale for a local derby against Wigan Athletic. After last weekend’s deflating loss at Millwall, and with the complete lack of transfer activity this week, many fans, myself included, are feeling very flat about our home campaign kicking off again.
The end to the transfer window was without a doubt, extremely disappointing, as we were lead to believe that Alex Neil wanted a left-back, a striker, and a goalkeeper added to his squad. Without those key additions, North End look short of quality, and the mood could quickly turn if we don’t get a good result on Saturday. We are an Andrew Hughes injury, or a Declan Rudd error away from bedlam, or so it feels…
I’m not one to correlate results from last season and this season, however, our set up and display at The Den last week rang a few alarm bells. Setting up in the usual 4-1-4-1 system, with Gally in a “free” role, Browne and Potts as number 10s, and Barkhuizen on the right, North End were quite stale. Dominating the ball, but with little creativity or intent, I certainly hope that Neil looks towards more technical options as we return home this weekend.
Billy Bodin, Andre Green, Josh Harrop and Tom Bayliss all offer more technicality and will be hoping to get a chance, and they may be more suited to breaking down packed defences, which the likes of Browne, Potts and Barkhuizen struggle to do effectively. I would certainly hope that Bodin gets a start, having looked so impressive in pre-season. Getting more creative players on the pitch is the key for me, and that includes Darnell Fisher ahead of Tom Clarke at right-back, which will hopefully provide North End with more attacking intent and width.
The visitors, Wigan Athletic, make the short journey north in much better spirits, on the back of an impressive 3-2 opening day win against Cardiff City, and buoyed by the signings of Kieffer Moore, Jamal Lowe and Dujon Sterling in recent days and the deadline day arrivals of Tom Pearce from Leeds United and Bright Enobakhare from Wolves. The Latics ended last season well, including comfortably beating Alex Neil’s beach boys, and look to have carried the feel good factor into this season. Kieffer Moore will be looking to impress on his debut against a side that was desperate to sign him last summer – we all know how that ended and we can all guess what will probably come on Saturday.
Paul Cook likes to set his teams up in a narrow 4-2-3-1, with full-backs providing attacking width – and in Antonee Robinson and Dujon Sterling, he has two very athletic options who are well capable of supporting the final third. Behind the lone striker, either old favourite Joe Garner or new boy Kieffer Moore, Cook will likely use 3 attacking midfielders in Josh Windass, Michael Jacobs and Anthony Pilkington, with another new boy Jamal Lowe potentially pushing for a place in the starting XI. The Latics will press and attacking quickly, but may well leave plenty of room for North End to attack, as we saw in last season’s 4-0 triumph for the lilywhites.
Josh Windass, another former PNE target, always picks up good pockets of space and has a powerful shot on him, and he will be looking to ghost behind our midfield. Kieffer Moore, standing at over 6’5″, will pose an obvious aerial treat, something that PNE’s defence has struggled to deal with for a long while. Hopefully, Patrick Bauer continues to aid with this weakness, as he did last week at Millwall. Wigan’s full-backs will get high up the pitch and look to cross into the striker and attacking midfielders, and with North End having conceded from a cross last week, I’d point towards this as being a big danger again.
This week’s opposition view comes from Wigan fan James Mitchell. You can follow him on twitter here – @JamesSaintLatic.
As always seems to be the case pre-season form/performances had no real bearing on how we started against Cardiff on Saturday. Cook himself said when we were 2-0 down at home to Burnley 2 weeks ago it looked like “we couldn’t lift a leg up”. We did come back to draw 2-2 in that one but other results included a defeat at Fylde with a fairly strong team out for 45 mins and a 1-1 at Bradford with a fairly strong team for the whole game.
As for last weeks game I could talk about it for an hour. It had everything, mistakes, missed penalties, 5 goals, ex-player (Bogle) looks like he’s ruining the day but in the end we managed to get a well deserved, in my opinion, 3-2 win. The game was so open but that seems to be the case across the league opening weekend so long may that continue. It was a great result against a side you’d expect to be up there in May but saying that all three newly relegated sides lost. That’s the Championship!
Transfer window wise it’s arguably been one of the best we’ve ever had. We’ve spent around £8.5/9 million which for a club like ourselves is a massive amount. We had a saga all summer regarding Jamal Lowe from Pompey but we finally got him last Thursday. Other signings include Antonee Robinson, David Marshall, Lewis Macleod, Joe Williams (I believe he’s known in Preston for a spat with Ben Pearson last year when at Bolton), Dujon Sterling on loan and then this week we signed Kieffer Moore for around £2.5 million rising to £3 from Barnsley and we also brought in Tom Pearce and Bright Enobakhare on deadline day.
I think expectations could be an issue this year as, in my opinion, we’ve now got a squad that should be finishing 10-14th depending on a bit of luck etc but there’s talk of play-offs and promotion after we’ve spent a little bit but as much as I’d love to get carried away we all know what this league is like.
Last week we lined up in our usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Marshall; Byrne, Dunkley, Fox, Robinson; Macleod, Evans; Pilkington, Windass, Jacobs; Garner.
I’d expect the line up to be very similar to that. Personally I’d be tempted to take Pilkington out for a bit more pace (Massey or Lowe) but at the same time we played well last week so why change? Garner should keep his place as he was very good last week despite the new striker. I’m sure he’s looking forward to returning to Deepdale as well.
As for a prediction, I think I’m still scarred from the 4-0 demolition you gave us last year when we all thought we were going well and you weren’t in great form! I’ve seen a few PNE fans unhappy with the performance at Millwall so I’d expect a reaction and I think it’ll close. I’ll go for a 2-2 draw as I’d like to think our players will be up for it after last years lesson.
Personally, I’m finding this one tough to call. One part of me wants to see the likes of Bodin, Green, Bayliss and Harrop get minutes to provide more genuine creativity, however part of me thinks that we will be well suited to go with “runners”, as I fully expect Wigan to come out and attack, with particular emphasis on gaps behind their full-backs.
If we find the right balance, maybe Bodin on the right and Barkhuizen on the left, we can cause Wigan different problems and exploit them in different ways. Potts, Browne and Gally need to find form quickly, and we need a quick impact from the likes of Fisher, Bayliss and Green. We do have good options in the squad, it’s just a case of Neil preparing the players tactically and hoping that their fitness levels are up to scratch.
I am always impressed with the attacking intent of Paul Cook’s side, but they will always give you chances, so I’m going to settle for a high octane 2-2 draw. I would never bet on North End to keep a clean sheet with Declan Rudd between the sticks, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that Kieffer Moore will score on debut. I am certainly expecting an entertaining game though, with Neil desperate to get points on the board and desperate to quickly lighten the mood following what has been a very disappointing week for the Club.
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