Fulham’s victory at Birmingham City on Wednesday evening means that Albion travel to Preston on Saturday in second place in the table but as one of only two unbeaten sides in the Championship, the other being Bournemouth.
Having lost their opening three league games of the campaign, North End are now on a run of four league games unbeaten culminating in a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane on Tuesday evening thanks to Emil Riis Jakobsen’s 95th minute equaliser. Both of the Lilywhites’ victories in their Championship campaign have come at Deepdale, 1-0 over Peterborough United and 3-1 against Swansea City. However, their opening game of the campaign on their own soil saw them thumped 4-1 by newly promoted Hull City.
North End boss, Frankie McAvoy, initially took over as interim boss when Alex Neil was sacked in March. McAvoy never played football at professional level but spent ten years working as a coach at Hamilton Academical where he first worked with Neil – he followed his fellow Scot to Norwich City and then on to Preston and was offered his first job as a Head Coach in the summer after an impressive run in to the last campaign.
It will be interesting to see how the Scotsman opts to approach the game. Albion’s last three opposing coaches have sought to contain Albion by taking no risks at the back and, by and large, it worked, until the second half on Tuesday evening when Ismaël’s team found a way to counter the tactic and had more than enough chances to have won the game.
As the home side, McAvoy may feel inclined to take the game to Albion, but that would surely play into the visitors’ hands. Preston already play with a back three which will match up to the Baggies front line, but they tend to play two up front with Riis Jakobsen and Sean Maguire the favoured partnership. Skipper, Daniel Johnson, will sit in behind the front two while Ryan Ledson and Ben Whiteman as a double pivot further back – I suspect it will be those two that Mowatt and Livermore will look to harass! Any attempts to play the ball around the back will be jumped on by the Baggies front line, and expect to see the usual high line held by the Albion back three. In Riis Jakobsen, Preston have a target man so it will be interesting to see whether McAvoy opts to get his team to bypass the midfield as Rooney did on Tuesday.
There could be a number of players facing their former club in this fixture – Preston winger, Scott Sinclair, was on loan at the Hawthorns for the 2013/14 season while Sam Johnstone, Jayson Molumby, Adam Reach, Jordan Hugill and Callum Robertson have all previously pulled on the Lilywhites’ shirt. Hugill and Robinson had a fruitful partnership at Deepdale between 2016 and 2018, one that Albion fans will hope they can resurrect in Albion colours, and perhaps they will get to start their first game together for the Baggies at Deepdale.
Hugill’s display on Tuesday evening certainly warrants a start in my opinion and Robinson, while surprisingly taken off at half time against Derby, is still Albion’s top scorer having started the season with a goal in each of the Baggies’ opening three games. Grady Diangana was also impressive on Tuesday and he could well be the third striker leaving Grant and Phillips on the bench.
I suspect that Matt Clarke will still be unavailable despite his better-than-expected progress in recovering from a hamstring injury, but it could be that Big Val will hand Kean Bryan an Albion debut. Conor Townsend did a decent job against Derby, but with Preston’s big Danish striker, it may be more prudent to play a more natural centre back. However, if Townsend does revert to wing back, it would be harsh on Reach who had an excellent game on Tuesday.
Albion should have had enough to win their last two matches, and should definitely have beaten Derby County given their second half performance. This is another match that I expect Albion to win but, as always, it needs the players to perform and every team needs a bit of luck on occasion. I also think that playing away from home may suit this approach a little more and, backed by a bumper away following in excess of 3,000, the Baggies should be coming back with all three points.
Albion are on a run of five successive victories in meetings with Preston North End and haven’t lost to the Lilywhites since January 2008 when goals from Youl Mwene and Karl Hawley were enough for Alan Irvine’s side to send Mowbray’s Baggies home from Deepdale pointless. Zoltán Gera had equalised for the visitors making the final score 2-1.
The history of the two clubs goals back many years, of course, and on their second ever meeting, in the FA Cup Final of 1888, Preston’s players famously posed for a photograph with the trophy before the match before the referee said “Hadn’t you better win it first?”. Albion, of course, beat the hot favourites 2-1 to win their first ever FA Cup.
North End had an element of revenge a few months later when the two clubs met for the first time in the newly formed Football League. The match was at Deepdale and the hosts won 3-0 and, on the return fixture on Boxing Day 1888 they won even more convincingly thumping the hosts at Stoney Lane 5-0. Preston, of course, went on to win the first League championship without losing a game.
5-0 remains Preston’s biggest win over Albion and they have also twice achieved that scoreline in meetings at Deepdale although both were in the 19th century. The Baggies’ biggest win in Preston came in February 1922 when goals from Alf Smith, Fred Morris and Stan Davies saw them win 3-0.
When Darren Moore’s team won at 3-2 Deepdale in September 2018, it was the Baggies’ first league win at the venue for almost 60 years. Albion had won there in the FA Cup in 2005 and the League Cup in 1970, but the previous league victory had been a 4-2 win in January 1959 when Derek Kevan (2) and Frank Griffin’s goals were supplemented by an own goal from Frank O’Farrell.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
25 Feb 2020 – League Championship
West Brom 2 (Robson-Kanu, Livermore)
Preston North End 0
Last meeting at Preston North End
2 Dec 2019 – League Championship
Preston North End 0
West Brom 1 (Austin (pen))
Albion’s Record against Preston North End
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