Opposition view – Preston North End

We speak to Youtuber and Preston fan BenHD ahead of the Lillywhites’ visit to Liberty Stadium this weekend…

Firstly a word on last term. Alex Neil replaced Simon Grayson and you narrowly missed out on the Play-Offs. How would you describe your season?
When you look at the budgets other sides around us were operating on, to finish just two points outside the top six was a very promising campaign for us. When Alex Neil first arrived he brought a new sense of optimism with him, wanting us to play on the front foot and playing high-tempo football. We tended to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which allowed our forwards to press from the front and break swiftly with pace going forward.

If it wasn’t for an injury crisis in October, which saw eight defenders sidelined, then we perhaps could have made the top six – but that’s football I suppose.

It’s fair to say we weren’t the most liked side last season, I think we managed to accumulate the most yellow cards in the whole of the EFL! Off the ball we work hard and try to make it difficult for the opposition to get into full flow.

With that in mind is your aim to go one better this time and get into the top six?
Absolutely. I’d say that this is the first season where we expect to be in and around the top six as we saw what we were capable of last season. Our squad is probably the best it’s been in the last decade and with a bit of luck, you never know.

What business have you done this summer and are you happy with it overall?
It’s been a fairly solid transfer window, despite losing Greg Cunningham to your rivals. With the current model at the club, investing in young raw talents from the lower leagues, hopefully we’ve uncovered some gems.

Ryan Ledson arrives from Oxford United as a combative midfielder who’s comfortable on the ball. Jordan Storey from Exeter, a prospect at centre back. Andrew Hughes has so far filled the boots left by Greg Cunningham. As well as Graham Burke from Shamrock Rovers, who looks to be a tidy player who drifts inside from the left and has goals in him.

Most recently we completed the loan signing of winger Brandon Baker, arriving from Man City on a season-long loan. He adds competition to our wide areas and with Billy Bodin ruled out for six months, he could be a useful addition.

At the time of writing we are still in need of another striker, with Louis Moult being our only out-and-out striker who’s fit at the moment. Whichever striker we bring in will determine if this window has been a success or not in my opinion.

Who are your star performers and who needs to up their game?
Our two holding midfielders, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne are the ones to watch. Pearson takes on the more defensive role as he looks to break up play and get into the oppositions faces. In his last two seasons he’s picked up just shy of 30 yellow cards, his bite in the middle makes us a tough side to break down and his vision on the ball makes us tick.

Browne takes on a more advanced role. Making runs into the final third, drives with the ball and has an eye for goal (he scored the winner against QPR). Full of energy, as a midfield pair they complement each other perfectly and suit Alex Neil’s pressing style.

With our main striker Sean Maguire out for ten weeks, Louis Moult is someone I’d like to see step up in the next few games. You can’t fault his effort, against QPR he was constantly closing down defenders and linked the play well with our midfield. I think as soon as he gets a couple of goals we’ll see the best of him – hopefully!

You started the season by beating QPR on Saturday, how did the game go?
It was a fairly comfortable game for us, with our goalkeeper only really called into action for the final ten minutes, when QPR started to push for an equaliser. Last season we tended to struggle against sides who came to Deepdale and sat deep, to nullify our pace going forward, so to start the season with 3 points at home sets us up well.

We pressed well and controlled the game with 64% possession. However, from open play we didn’t create many chances, with our goal coming from a set-piece. This was probably my only concern from Saturday, this season I’d like to see us taking more risks in the final third to open teams up.

I expect the game on Saturday to contrast to our opener, away from home we tend to me more effective, pressing hard off the ball and breaking with pace on the counter attack.

What do you make of Swansea and which players if any do you fear?
After watching you in action against Sheffield United, a few players definitely stood out. Jefferson Montero looked like he changed the game for you when he came on. Being fast, agile and tricky – we’ll certainly need to keep close tabs on him.

Ollie McBurnie was a player I liked the look of last season at Barnsley and I think he could be a really useful player this season.

Barrie McKay also looked like someone who could create something out of nothing so I expect to see our back 4 being kept on their toes against you on Saturday.

Predict the score and where both teams will finish…
Considering only Cardiff and Wolves had better away records than us last season, I think we’ll give you a good game. We’re usually quite tight at the back and have players out wide like Tom Barkhuizen and Callum Robinson who can swiftly break on the counter. Both teams should be up for it after an opening day victory, I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.

I think both of us will be in and around the top six this season, in my predictions I had us to finish 6th and you to finish 10th. Although with how unpredictable the Championship is, I’ll probably end up being way off!