Behind Enemy Lines: Preston North End

MILLWALL are looking for back-to-back league wins after triumphing at Pride Park on Wednesday night.

Jed Wallace’s fifth goal of the season was enough to beat the Rams as Shaun Williams made his 225th Lions appearance.

Preston were 3-2 winners in December at Deepdale – when Lee Gregory netted his last league goal.

Lucas Ball spoke to Jake from ‘From the Finney’ this week.

Twitter: @fromthefinney/@jioates

Why do you support Preston?

A simple one that I'm sure you have had plenty of times. I'm from Preston, I grew up in Preston and I still live here now. I grew up with my dad and grandad going to the games so I just naturally ended up going and have been a season-ticket holder in the Sir Tom Finney Stand for 17 years now.

What’s been your favourite season following North End?

This is a tough one. There's been many great ones. The season we came up from League One as Champions in 1999-00 under David Moyes, but I was seven years old so it's a bit foggy.

The following season when we lost in the play-off final against Bolton was another enjoyable one but, as with the previous season, I don't remember too much.

The 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons under Billy Davies when we made the play-offs and got to the final against West Ham in the first of those seasons were also good.

But the best season I've had supporting North End has to be the 2014-15 season when we finally broke our play-off curse and won the League One play-off final at Wembley 4-0 against Swindon. Jermaine Beckford scored a hat-trick.

And the worst?

Without a doubt, the season that we got relegated from the Championship in 2011. I'd never experienced anything like that so I just felt really sad.

Alex Neil has done a remarkable job – just how much credit does he deserve for the improvement to this side?

Plenty of credit, without a doubt. If it wasn't for our horrendous injury record last season and this, I've no doubt we'd be challenging for the play-offs.

He's found a system that works well, our players know it and they've all bought into how he wants them to play. Many of them have said he's the hardest working manager they've worked under.

I think that shows in the number of players that he has improved since he's arrived, too. Callum Robinson, Ben Pearson, Alan Browne and Ben Davies, to name just a few.

What are your expectations for the rest of this season?

I would love to see us mount a late play-off charge but, as I mentioned in a post on From the Finney, I just think it's a bridge too far for us this season. Even though we have to play a few of the clubs who are in and around the top six at home before the end of the season, I still think it's too much of an ask.

So I guess, just win as many games as possible between now and the end of the season, see where we end up and try to take that positivity into next season.

In the summer, where would you like to see the squad added to, to perhaps go that one step further?

As it stands, we're not too bad in terms of squad depth and quality at the moment. I think one more centre-back wouldn't go a miss. Both Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington are on the wrong side of 30 and they've been great servants for the club but we can't be too sentimental. They're probably both back-up players now.

The issue will come if one or two players leave and it looks as though Callum Robinson won't be signing a new contract so I suspect he will be off in the summer with just 12 months left on his deal. He would need replacing with some quality and pace out wide, and if Ben Pearson and Alan Browne were to leave we would almost definitely need some extra quality in the middle of the park.

Which of Preston’s players will the Lions need to pay most attention to?

From an attacking point of view, Alan Browne has been probably our best player this season. He's been reinvigorated under Alex Neil playing in a more advanced role and tasked with breaking up the play high up the pitch. He has a penchant for scoring from midfield, too, with 11 goals to his name this season – including one against Millwall.

Another is Brad Potts who joined in January from Barnsley. He's settled in really quickly and has two goals from his first seven games but could easily had double that with some better finishing.

From a defensive point of view, young Jordan Storey and Ben Davies, our centre-back pairing, are exquisite at this level. However, I suspect playing Millwall will be a different test for both of them and one I'm looking forward to seeing how they handle.

Likewise, which Millwall players are you worried about facing?

Jake Cooper has been a big asset for you with six goals and six assists this season. For a centre-back that's a great record and he'll no doubt be a threat from set-pieces. He could have a good day with Declan Rudd's inability to come off his line for the majority of things that come into his box, though he has improved in recent weeks.

What are your thoughts on Neil Harris?

From what I know about him, he seems an honest, hard-working guy. I like what he did with Millwall last season – he had you playing to your strengths and it worked well. To be honest, that's about as far as my Neil Harris knowledge goes.

If you could sign one of his players, who would it be and why?

Either Lee Gregory or Jake Cooper, but I don't think either of them would get into our starting XI based on current form.

What’s your predicted North End starting XI and formation?

I predict there'll be one change with Jayden Stockley starting up front but I'm not sure who it will be for. He could replace either Sean Maguire or Tom Barkhuizen but I'd go with Maguire dropping to the bench so I suspect the starting XI will be something like this:


Rudd; Fisher, Storey, Davies, Hughes; Pearson; Barkhuizen, Potts, Browne, Gallagher; Stockley.

This will either be a 4-1-4-1 or at times a 4-2-3-1 with Gallagher sitting in alongside Pearson.

Will you be at the game on Saturday afternoon?

I won't, unfortunately. I've got a wedding coming in April so I'm a little bit pre-occupied with planning that.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

I think it'll be a draw, either 1-1 or 2-2. I certainly think there's going to be goals. If I were having a bet I'd put a little something on both teams to score.

Graphic: @ShedCreative