Preston North End To Press For Play-Offs? – Opinion

Two months from today, the Championship table will be finalised, and Preston North End will have aspirations of sneaking a play-off place.

As we surge into the final quarter, Ryan Lowe and his entourage find themselves just three points shy of sixth placed Hull City who currently occupy the final spot for a chance of promotion success. However, the Lancashire outfit still find themselves going under the radar, with many not even giving the idea of Preston breaking the top six a thought.

In truth, there are much more glamorous clubs still battling away, with the likes of Norwich City, Coventry City, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City all at the forefront of discussion.

Recently, the Championship has become wholly unpredictable in what has been a rather uneventful season, despite the applaudable effort from Ipswich Town who have exceeded expectations. Amidst the chaos, The Lilywhites currently find themselves in a rich vein of form equating to an unbeaten run of seven matches, whilst taking points from fellow high-flyers and promotion chasing; Ipswich Town, Coventry City and Hull City.

Prior to this campaign, many of the faithful surrounding Deepdale were unconvinced with manager Ryan Lowe and his tactics and approach to fixtures.

In response to his critics, the 45-year-old, who formerly played as a striker, has implemented a style of play which resonates with his attacking notion. Modern day football showcases a variety of different tactical set-ups and formations as opposed to the classical 4-4-2, direct approach.

Across the current campaign, and with each passing fixture, it is becoming increasingly apparent that North End are not only a well disciplined, solid outfit, but one who want to press from the front.

Throughout his tenure, Lowe’s men have been perceived as too passive and allowing teams to dominate the ball, create chances, whilst not being able to lay a glove on the opposition in response. However, there is now stability and a core which is trusted, so much so that reinforcements were not required in the January transfer window.

A back-three has always been preferred to provide defensive cover, with Liam Lindsay, Andrew Hughes and Jordan Storey the preferred trio.

Interestingly, on the four occasions a traditional back four was preferred, Preston recorded a defeat in each encounter, suggesting that either the players under contract do not fit the system, or the tactical tweak was ineffective.

Furthermore, for the majority, Liam Millar and Brad Potts have occupied the wing-back position.  On the left, Millar is a dynamic, tricky wideman who likes to cut inside, but is also more than capable of taking his man on, down the outside.

On the opposite flank, Potts is more of an engine who loves to get up and down, to support attacks, whilst also being defensively sound.

When out of possession, the wing-backs are expected to push high with the two central midfielders to create a bank of four, allowing the three defenders behind to push higher and plug the gaps, squeezing the opposition into their half. Ali McCann, although not always preferred, has been phenomenal in this system as a tough tackling midfielder. Whereas Ben Whiteman and Alan Browne are more technical players who can make things happen.

Unsurprisingly though, the front three are the key piece in the Preston puzzle. It hasn’t been uncommon to see 3-4-2-1, 3-4-3 as well as 3-4-1-2 throughout the campaign, depending on the opposition.

One constant has been that when out of possession, a front three is created to hassle and hurry the opposition. With an emphasis on playing out from the back across the Championship, Lowe has used this to his strength. The ethos… press from the front and win the ball high.

A prime example of this was Preston’s impressive victory over Ipswich at the beginning of February. The constant relentless pressure resulted in expected mistakes, in which The Lilywhites capitalised on.

Focusing on Saturday’s stalemate with Hull City, another side who enjoy playing possession based, attractive football; Will Keane, Emil Riis Jokobsen and Mads Frøkjær Jensen were unfortunate to not steal the headlines as they created numerous chances from their running.

With that, it is also important to be adaptable across a campaign. Playing a certain style of football will only get you so far, before you become predictable and easy to contain. However, when trying to dominate the ball, results have been poor. In fact, they have not recorded a single win when totalling over 55% on the possession statistics.

Ultimately proving, they are much better without the ball, when looking to exploit and capitalise on mistakes, by winning the ball and being direct.

Taking a look at the fixture list as the season comes to its conclusion, there is a lot of opportunity. Deepdale will be the venue, where they host struggling duo Stoke City and Rotherham United in March.

Finally, with Norwich, Leicester and West Brom all to play within their final four games, their will be a chance to solidify their play-off push by taking points off the teams around them, or condemning them to another campaign in England’s second tier.

It’s a very exciting time to be a Preston North End fan, and one things for sure, everything is to play for.

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