We travel to the capital once again this weekend to take on Mark Warburton’s Queens Park Rangers and Alex Neil’s men will be looking to put a stop to the current ‘rut’ they find themselves in.
We still find ourselves just inside the playoff places but will certainly need a real upturn in our current form to have any chance of finishing in the top 6 come the end of the season.
North End head into the game after a narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of league leaders, West Brom. In a game with a makeshift back 4, PNE put on a spirited display and only a very controversial penalty denied them what would have been a well-deserved point.
That said it has simply not been good enough after the most recent international break. Back-to-back losses at Derby County and Hull City respectively were the start to a bad run which continued following Monday night’s game against the Baggies.
Away form has been the issue for North End this season. We currently sit atop the home form league table having picked up 23 points from 10 games, 3 more than West Brom who ended our record on Monday night. They have their 10th home game this Saturday though so that might not be for much longer.
As mentioned, the issues lie on the road at the moment having only won 2 of our 9 games played away from Deepdale. We need to find a formula to fix our away woes and start picking up points on the road. And soon.
One thing that has started to become a bit of a worry and worth noting in the last 3 games is that we haven’t scored a goal. We haven’t been without chances but they have been limited in the games.
It was perhaps somewhat understandable in the West Brom game where we sacrificed our attacking intent somewhat (especially in the first half) to make sure the players stuck to their tasks and shape properly in order to defend against an impressive attacking side.
As for QPR, they haven’t won in their last 7 games, drawing 3 and losing 4. Their last 3 points came way back on October 19th, a 3-2 win away at Hull City and their latest result, a 1-1 draw away at Derby County, means that it’s just 2 points picked up from their last 6 games.
They have scored 17 goals at home in the league this season whereas we have only managed to find the net 6 times away from home. However, if we were to be able to find the net, you would fancy us to get more than one. QPR have conceded 22 goals at home, an average of 2.2 per game.
Despite currently sitting in the bottom half, the squad that Mark Warburton has at his disposal, especially in the attacking areas, has the potential to cause any side in this league an issue or two.
Attacking midfielder Eberechi Eze has certainly caught the eye this season. He certainly seems to be having a real breakthrough season after much promise last campaign and he has nearly doubled his goal tally from last season scoring 7 already after managing only 4 last season.
Eze also has 4 assists to his name, as well as averaging 3.2 dribbles per game, the most of any player in the Championship this season. He is currently the highest-rated player in the Championship on WhoScored too with a rating of 7.45.
Two strikers in Warburton’s squad also catch the eye. One that Preston fans will be more than familiar with.
Jordan Hugill, a man who certainly divided opinion during his time at Deepdale is back on loan in the Championship, for the 2nd time in as many seasons. Perhaps controversial but, I certainly would have taken Hugill back at North End. I believe he would have been perfect for our system. In fact, Jake wrote a piece in the summer about how Jordan Hugill would have been a perfect fit for us this season.
He’s having a fairly decent season back in London and is already scoring more goals than he did last season and we aren’t even halfway through the current campaign. He’s got 8 goals to his name so far but as we know, he can bring much more than goals to a side.
Hopefully, as you would presume Alex Neil and the majority of the squad are familiar with Jordan’s style, we can find a way to combat him.
The final player I would single out is Bermudan, Nahki Wells. He currently matches Hugill’s goal tally with 8 so far this season but the former Huddersfield and Burnley striker is a different kind of player to Hugill.
Nahki relies on running in behind with pace and is a clinical finisher. It will be interesting to see who Warburton goes with upfront or whether he decides to play both together.
The season so far has been a pleasant surprise.
Everybody knows that QPR went absolutely mental when we were promoted, with a succession of mad trolley dashes around Premier League sticker books from ten years prior.
Astronomical money paid to a load of mercenary has-beens like Ji Sung Park and Jose Bosingwa, disgusting characters like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton, players that simply weren’t good enough and so on. Mark Hughes and then Harry Redknapp, with a naïve owner in Tony Fernandes, ruined us for years to come.
We’ve spent the last four seasons trying to get a wage bill down from north of £80m to somewhere south of £20m which is more appropriate for a club in an old ground on an average gate of 12,000. We’ve breached FFP once and are ducking and diving to avoid breaching it again, under an excellent CEO who we got from Burnley. Reducing your wage bill by that much without plummeting through the divisions is difficult, and we’ve held our position in the Championship.
In the summer, at the end of the parachute payments, we needed to offload another load of top earners, and last season’s team had bombed after Christmas as well (three wins from final 23 games) so needed tearing up and starting again.
We got rid of 20 in the end, either sold, released or loaned out. We brought 16 in, on a challenging budget. All of that mean expectations were extremely low at the start of the season and many preview pieces had us in the bottom three.
Mark Warburton has come in, got us playing some attractive, attacking football, and we’ve been in the top half of the table for all but the last couple of weeks. We’re seven without a win at the moment, which is our first wobble, but we’re still tracking well ahead of what most people expected and we were much improved at Derby at the weekend.
I’m a bit wary about the rest of the season. In recent years, under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren we’ve gone along fine for periods of time, thought we were getting somewhere, and then dipped into a long winless run from which we struggle to escape.
JFH won none of his first seven, and then went on another seven-match run leading to the sack; Holloway had three separate spells of six successive defeats; McClaren won one of his last 17 having been up around the play-offs at Christmas.
I was relieved to see us play well at Derby at the weekend, but we didn’t win and that’s seven now.
What tends to happen is our support base gets very nervous very quickly, and then very aggy, and then start battering the chairman on Twitter. The board for their part are rather prone to swooping into a club being run well day to day by the CEO and DOF and making a snap decision on a change of manager.
December is big for us. November, up to and including this game, always looked tough, and it’s proven to be so. We’ve got more winnable games through the Christmas period, though.
Best case scenario, we start winning again, lift back into the middle of the league, maybe add to the defence in January, and keep going with the Warburton project through the summer and into next season. Worst case, results turn against us, we sack yet another manager, and off we go again.
We need to stop conceding goals – we’re the only team in the football league without a clean sheet, and we’d conceded at least two goals in a game for ten consecutive matches prior to the 1-1 at Pride Park.
I’ll go for a draw in this one, but Preston have been a bit of a bogey side for us in recent seasons. We fall into the Ben Pearson trap every time.
As for a starting XI for this one… We ditched the back three and went back to 4-2-3-1 at the weekend and looked a lot better for it.
For me, our first-choice team is probably Kelly; Rangel, Leistner/Hall, Barbet, Manning; Cameron, Amos; Osayi-Samuel, Wells, Eze; Hugill. But Kelly and Barbet are injured so your guess is as good as mine with this one.
In terms of team news, this was so simple earlier in the season with the team near enough picking itself. But a combination of injuries and a loss of form has now made the team nearly impossible to predict game by game.
Alex Neil is keeping his cards close to his chest with regards to injuries but he did say that they are all short term. Whether the weekend will come too soon for the likes of Bauer, Davies and Gallagher etc is unknown.
I’m going to go for Preston to play 4-2-3-1 as per usual with the team as follows: Rudd; Browne, Huntington, Storey, Rafferty; Gallagher, Pearson; Barkhuizen, Johnson, Bodin, Nugent.
As I mentioned, the injuries and return dates are completely unknown so that is a very vague XI prediction but it has to be said after the unlucky defeat on Monday night any of the defensive unit would be rather unfortunate to lose their place. Also, a special mention to Paul Huntington who came back in for his first start in the league in 11 months and he looked like he had never been away.
We do defiantly need to freshen things up going forward though. I think Maguire is looking rather tired and Jayden Stockley, despite his efforts on Monday night, was rather uninfluential and this could lead to Nuge getting an opportunity to lead the line on Saturday.
As for the scoreline, both sides come into the game on poor form so, I have to predict a draw. I’ll go for a rather safe 1-1 though. After the last two away games, I just hope to see a better display away from home to reward the away fans who are again, travelling in numbers and hats off to them for that.
If you haven’t already, why not give this week’s podcast a listen? In it, Dan, Jake and Oli looked back through November and also covered the game on Monday night. There was also some talk about what January could bring for the club.