The 3-0 home defeat that Preston North End suffered to Blackburn Rovers was one of the lowest points during Alex Neil’s time at Deepdale. They cannot afford to let anything similar happen like that on Friday night.
A Joe Rafferty red card didn’t help matters last time, but for this fixture a run of 5 losses in 7 games doesn’t help things either. Coupled with the fact that Alex Neil has a completely new spine to his team and, as he said recently, it’s going to take time for things to start to gel.
The January transfer window saw eight new players arrive and eight leave the club. Key players left, and there’s no doubt North End will miss the tenacity of Ben Pearson, the composure of Ben Davies and the general antics of Darnell Fisher.
They understood what this game meant to the fans and their overall record against Blackburn Rovers since being back at this level has been impressive. That defeat in November was Preston’s first in eight games against their derby rivals, with five victories in that time. In fact, they haven’t lost at Ewood Park since 2001!
Of the January arrivals you would imagine Greg Cunningham is familiar with how much this game means to the fans, and having spent part of last season with Blackburn he may well be given his first start since his return to Preston.
Ched Evans at 32, will have experienced plenty of derbies in his career, but as for the other signings, many of them are still in the very early stages of their career.
Anthony Gordon made his first start for Everton in the Premier League against Liverpool, and being a local to the area he will understand what a derby is all about. But having made his debut in an empty stadium takes away some of that passion from the game. What should be made clear by Alex Neil is that The Lilywhites simply can’t afford to be embarrassed again by Tony Mowbray’s side.
Regardless of the opposition, the team’s form has been poor in 2021 and needs to be turned around sooner rather than later. What better way than a resounding win against your rivals on television? Depending on Paul Huntington’s fitness, Sepp van den Berg could be thrown in for his first start and will have the prolific Adam Armstrong to deal with; a baptism of fire for the young Dutchman on loan from Liverpool.
Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby, despite their young age, seem to have wise heads on their shoulders, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel Johnson is brought in for this game having impressed against Rovers on many occasions in the past. Tom Barkhuizen loves a derby day as well, and perhaps Paul Gallagher could come in for this one too.
This isn’t a game to test out new methods, and tactics. Alex Neil should probably go with the tried and tested players at the club rather than giving the new recruits a full 90 minutes. Liam Lindsay looked as if he was lacking match practice last weekend, but with limited options he’s likely to be in the side again.
Fingers crossed Alan Browne is fit, as the captain is needed to step up for this one, and lead by example. This game is different to others, and despite not being able to attend the fixture in their thousands, it still means an awful lot to the Preston North End fans. It looks as if the season is going to end in a mid table finish if we’re honest, but a nice victory against Blackburn at Ewood Park would be the highlight of an otherwise dull campaign.