Preston North End v West Bromwich Albion; Deepdale, Saturday 30th September 2023, 3pm
When the fixture list was published in June, few would have thought that this fixture would be a visit to one of the division’s early pace setters. As the only unbeaten side in the Championship, Ryan Lowe’s team only dropped off the top of the table last weekend after surprisingly being held to a draw at Rotherham United, the first points they had dropped since their opening day stalemate at Bristol City. The only blot on North End’s card this season is an exit on penalties to League Two Salford City in the first round of the League Cup, the only home match they have failed to win so far this campaign.
It is a start that few will have foreseen. One defeat in eleven between February and April had put the Lilywhites in with a shout of the play-offs last season, but they proceeded to pick up just one point from their final five games and finished 12th, six points off the top six. However, some astute business done over the summer has seen Ryan Lowe’s team come flying out of the blocks. Of the fourteen goals that Preston have scored this season, ten have come from new signings. Irish international, Will Keane, who made the moved from Wigan Athletic, leads the way with four goals while American international, Duane Holmes, who joined from Huddersfield Town, has three. Milutin Osmajić, a Montenegrin international who transferred from Cádiz, Danish midfielder, Mads Frøkjær-Jensen, who joined from Odense and Canadian international midfielder, Liam Miller, who joined on loan from Basel have all scored since joining. It is a marked contrast to their start last season when they had scored just twice in the league by this stage of the campaign, albeit only conceding twice as well with five of their opening eight games finishing goalless.
The Lilywhites’ goalscoring form is even more remarkable when you consider that Emil Riis Jakobsen, their top scorer from 2021/22, has been out injured since January and is unlikely to return until after Christmas, but it remains to be seen whether Keane and Holmes will continue their early season form. Managing just one against the Millers last weekend, a side that had conceded sixteen in their previous seven games, maybe a slight concern for Lowe’s team but it could, of course, be just a blip, especially given that this season’s top scorer Keane was missing for that match, and he remains a doubt for the weekend.
Carlos Corberán shuffled the pack significantly for the visit of Millwall last weekend, perhaps a little too much, but with another three-game week coming up, he is likely to mix things up again. The five changes he made last weekend was, perhaps, a few too many but there were some successes – Matt Phillips once again showed his versatility by putting in a good performance on the right, while Alex Mowatt put in a strong claim for a run in the side with his performance in the middle. Sarmiento perhaps proved why he hasn’t started beforehand with something of an in-out display but Diangana showed some good signs, particularly in the second half, which provided a little hope that we might again see the player who burst onto the Albion scene at Kenilworth Road four years ago.
With new signing, Pipa, Nathaniel Chalobah, Tom Fellows and Caleb Taylor all featuring for the U21s on Monday, I would not be surprised to see one or two of those start on Saturday, but with only 17 senior professionals fit, they are all likely to be in the squad. Taylor may well get a start given that Semi Ajayi could miss out having rolled an ankle in the closing stages against Millwall.
Whatever side the Spaniard puts out, this will potentially be Albion’s toughest test of the season. They have at least managed a couple of clean sheets in the last three games, but in each case at the expense of goals at the other end, albeit they can consider themselves unfortunate not to have beaten the Lions last weekend. Against Preston, however, I’m sure they would take a 0-0 – so far this season, only Leicester City have conceded fewer goals than the Lilywhites and only four clubs have scored more.
If the Baggies can extend their unbeaten run to four games, it will be a good result, but wins are what they need if they are to keep in touch with the top six.
Only three current league clubs have a longer fixture history against Albion than Preston North End with the first meeting taking place in the FA Cup semi-final at Trent Bridge in March 1887. The Throstles won that encounter 3-1 but lost the final to Blackburn Rovers, and followed that up with an against-the-odds victory over North End in the following year’s final to secure Albion’s first major trophy.
It would be another five years before Albion would beat the Lilywhites again, however, as the Lancashire club dominated the early league encounters losing just once to the Black Country’s best in the next nineteen encounters. At Deepdale, the only stadium PNE have ever called home, the record was even more impressive and Albion did not record their first victory there until the new century had been born. It was on their (lucky) thirteenth visit to Preston that the Baggies finally recorded a victory, a 3-2 win in April 1901 thanks to goals from Thomas Pickering, Billy Walker and Tom Perry. Both clubs ended up being relegated that season but, with Albion recording a first league double over Preston the following season, the Black Country club immediately returned to the top flight with North End, who finished third in their first season in the second tier, taking two more seasons to make their way back.
Like the Baggies, Preston were a fixture in the top two divisions, more often than not in the top flight, for much of their first century as a professional club, but their relegation from Division One in 1961 proved to be a pivotal moment and they have not returned to the top flight since. They reached the Championship play-offs three times in the noughties with Billy Davies’ team losing the final to Alan Pardew’s West Ham United in 2005.
Albion’s win at the Hawthorns in December last year is their only victory in the last four meetings with North End, but they lost just one of the previous nine encounters, winning seven of them. The Baggies’ best win at Deepdale was back in February 1922 when Alfred Smith, Fred Morris and Stan Davies all scored in a 3-0 victory, which in January 1959, a Derek Kevan brace, another from Frank Griffin and a Frank O’Farrell own goal earned the visitors a 4-2 win with Preston’s goals coming from Tommy Thompson and Derek Mayers.
Preston’s biggest home wins all came more than 120 years ago with two 5-0 wins, a 4-0 and a 5-2 all recorded before the end of 1900. The best since then is 3-0 in February 2004 with Eddie Lewis, David Healy and a Graham Alexander penalty subjecting Gary Megson’s team to a rare defeat that season.
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All competitions; most recent game on the right
29 Dec 2022 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Yokuşlu (2))
Preston North End 0
Last meeting at Preston North End
5 Oct 2022 – League Championship
Preston North End 1 (Riis Jakobsen)
West Bromwich Albion 0
Last win at Preston North End
2 Dec 2019 – League Championship
Preston North End 0
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Austin (pen))
Albion’s Record against Preston North End