Championship table toppers Sheffield United visit Deepdale on Saturday to face Preston North End. The last game between the two saw Preston come from two goals down with ten men to snatch a late draw in a exhilarating 2-2 game under the floodlights.
So far this season, Paul Heckingbottom’s side have got 20 points from the first nine games of the season, only losing one game. Whilst Preston have also only lost one game, they have only managed 12 points, with a lack of goals limiting them from winning enough games to sit higher in the table than their current position of 12th.
Last season saw both club’s change manager’s midway through the campaign. The Blades parted company with Slavisa Jokanovic to make way for Heckingbottom whilst Lowe took the place of Frankie McAvoy. Jokanovic and McAvoy had faced off at a similar point of the season to where we find ourselves now. On 14th September last year, Preston gained a point at Bramall Lane thanks to a 95th minute equaliser from Emil Riis.
It was a similar story in January at Deepdale this year in what was just Ryan Lowe’s third game at home as Preston manager. Sheffield United took charge in the first half and went ahead in the 17th minute through Jayden Bogle.
The Lilywhites defence were struggling with the Blades attack and things got worse when five minutes before half time Andrew Hughes saw a straight red for bringing down Rhian Brewster. The red seemed harsh at the time, and salt was immediately rubbed in the wounds when Billy Sharp scored the resulting penalty.
It looked like there would be no way back for Preston and it would just be damage limitation at that point. Ryan Lowe switched to a back four at the break comprised of Joe Rafferty, Sepp van den Berg, Patrick Bauer and Greg Cunningham. The midfield trio of Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson and Ben Whiteman worked hard to ensure they didn’t just sit back, but took the game to Sheffield United and tried to find a way back into the match. Perhaps they should be shown a recap of this match to help them find a spark this season.
Browne pulled a goal back in the 71st minute on the night after good work from DJ. The introduction of former Blade Ched Evans really galvanised the team on the night though. His hard work and physicality shook up Sheffield United, and after great work from van den Berg and Bauer and a run forward from Alan Browne, it was Evans’ inch perfect cross that found Riis at the back post to give Preston the most unlikely of points.
Deepdale was in disbelief on that night, and many were very excited that this was the sort of performance Ryan Lowe could deliver so early into his tenure. It was a gritty, determined display a team full of quality that had just come down from the top flight. In that game Preston showed more attacking threat then they have done in a lot of the games this season, and that was with ten men. It was a superb collective effort that night, and let’s hope we can see something similar on Saturday.