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Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Preston North End (22/11/2014)

And there it is. A first league defeat in controversial circumstances at old rivals Swindon Town.  Now comes a true test of this team’s seemingly strong belief and character, moreso than during games where a defeat had looked on the cards as this team now needs to show how it reacts to a loss, especially one which angered and frustrated manager, players and fans alike.

Steve Cotterill’s temperament and approach will be critical this week.  If he has spent the week getting the players to channel their emotions productively, then Preston could feel the backlash.  If it’s been a week of feelings of injustice and despondency, the outcome could be somewhat different.  

Being 'up for it' seems to be most fans' desire after such a defeat, but without control, that can sometimes be an approach which loses you the sense of purpose and planning with which we have achieved so much this season.  When you throw in the loss of your captain and midfield lynchpin into that mix, due to the moment of most scrutiny, it all adds up to a huge afternoon for these promotion hopefuls.

Someone has to step up and fill Wade Elliott’s boots, be the man the others look to if tempers threaten to boil over and drive the determination for success, especially with Neil Kilkenny certain to be determined to show the fans at Ashton Gate what he occasionally demonstrated in his short time in BS3. 

Great teams are made on how they deal with adversity, if this side is to even approach that relative level, then the reaction in this game – and the one against Posh next week – is going to be key.

Stu Radnedge flew in from his holidays in the Far East to secure an interview with Dave Seddon, @Sedds_LEP who is a lifelong Preston fan who covers his club for the Lancashire Evening Post. My sincere thanks to both for this great review:

“As Bristol City attempt to stomach last week's defeat at Swindon, Preston have been suffering some indigestion of their own recently.  The Lilywhites are suffering a November wobble, eight straight wins - seven of those in the league - giving way to three successive League One defeats.  It is not a complete leg-buckling job, North End having beaten Havant and Waterlooville very comfortably in the FA Cup.

However, their form in the bread and butter of the league has not made Deepdale the happiest of places of late. So some sections of Preston's travelling support will be heading to Ashton Gate this weekend with an air of trepidation, while others see the top three clash as an opportunity for PNE to shake off their dip in form and test themselves against a side who have been setting the pace at the summit.

This is the club's fourth campaign in League One since the relegation season of 2010/11 - overseen first by Darren Ferguson and then Phil Brown. Brown was left in charge to try and lead them back at the first time of asking and then came the Graham Westley era which lasted 13 months and won few friends.

Now the task has fallen on the shoulders of Simon Grayson, his track record at this level an attractive one after promotions with Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield. Grayson is 21 months into the job and this is seen as the season in which he can put a fourth promotion on his managerial CV. When he was appointed in February 2013, his first task was a rescue act to stave off the threat of relegation - something achieved with a degree of comfort.

Last season saw Grayson steadily stamp his mark on the squad although it was still a work in progress in moving on inherited players and bringing in his own targets. In spells they flirted with automatic promotion but never hit the top two, although were rarely out of the top six.

Ultimately North End's hopes of going up were ended by Rotherham in the play-offs, Kieran Agard scoring one of the Millers' goals in the semi-final second leg. Preston [like City! – ER] don't do the play-offs, with defeat to Rotherham their ninth failure in the end of season knock out, so all eyes are on clinching one of the two automatic promotion slots as they seek to return to the Championship and the increase in revenue that brings.

Talk to different Preston fans and you will get differing opinions of the suitability of the squad to sustain a promotion charge. In Joe Garner they have a striker who over the last 12 months has in lethal form in front of goal. Until November 2 last year, 10 months in the shirt of the club he supported as a boy had produced just a single goal. Now he has 36 goals to his name and in the summer North End had to bat off strong interest from Rotherham and Ipswich.  Many of the 12 goals Garner has scored this season have come with him playing in a lone centre-forward role.

Not that he is totally shy of company, Grayson's preferred formation of late having been the 4-2-3-1. The wingers are encouraged to get close to Garner rather than stay out on the touchline, while behind him, Paul Gallagher provides support in the No.10 role. Some supporters though, would love to see another striker playing alongside Garner in a 4-4-2 system which seems the favourite of many. Arguing against that, 4-4-2 can leave teams shy in the centre of midfield and there were games last season when that happened.

Callum Robinson is another goal threat for North End, the teenager having joined on loan from Aston Villa in September. He has tended to play on the left side of Garner and was the hat-trick hero in the 3-0 win over Havant.

Chris Humphrey has a good turn of pace down the right-wing and has found his feet after what many people saw as an inconsistent first season at Deepdale following a Bosman move from Motherwell. Right-back Scott Wiseman will be back in the frame after missing last week's defeat to Bradford. He was otherwise engaged on international duty, playing for minnows Gibraltar against Germany. So after a night chasing Thomas Muller around Nuremberg, his next stop is Ashton Gate.

A member of the Preston midfield familiar to Robins fans will be Neil Kilkenny. The Australian has become a key player in the engine room, given licence to pick the ball up deep and build play. Some fans get frustrated by his sideways passing but better ball retention and patience in possession has been preached by Grayson this season.

This weekend's game is part of a busy schedule on the road for North End. They had four successive midweek trips to Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Swindon and Havant. Last Saturday's home game against Bradford was a brief respite from the travelling, with the visit to Ashton Gate followed by a JPT visit to Oldham on Tuesday night and then next weekend's trip back down the M5 to Yeovil - we'll give you a wave on the way past!”

A great review of our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses from Dave.  My thanks to him again.


The Exiled Robin

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