Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View: Why North End have enjoyed success on the road

Callum Robinson is sent flying in Preston's recent clash at Aston Villa
Callum Robinson is sent flying in Preston's recent clash at Aston Villa

Plenty was said in the aftermath of Preston’s defeat at the hands of Ipswich last week and perhaps a few words from Alex Neil summed up the afternoon.

“What they did today we do to a lot of other teams,” said North End boss Neil.

“The simple thing is they locked us on and made it very difficult.

“When the ball did drop to our better players, Ipswich went after us, ratted us.”

In a nutshell, PNE got a taste of their own medicine and it certainly wasn’t very pleasant.

Going after teams and forcing errors, doing it at a high tempo, could well be the reason that Preston’s strength has been on the road this season.

They are no slouches at Deepdale but going into the weekend Neil’s men have collected one more point on their travels than they have at home.

You have to go down to Norwich in 14th place to find the next team who can boast a better away record than they have at home.

When you bear in mind PNE didn’t win an away game for more than nine months between January 2017 and September, the about-turn has been significant.

North End’s strength is pressing and harrying sides, earning them the right to play from there.

Hence why away results have formed a big part of their top-six ambitions.

The home team tends to attack more, PNE going for the high press to win the ball.

It has led to some fine away days this season, with wins at Birmingham, Hull, Bristol City, Burton, Cardiff and Nottingham Forest.

The display at Aston Villa 10 days ago arguably merited more than the 1-1 draw they brought back. Think back 
also to the 2-2 draw at Fulham when they were only pegged back with practically the last kick of the game.

At Deepdale, the Achilles heel has been breaking down teams who were content to sit deep and, in some cases, do what Ipswich did.

It is not an exact science and PNE have managed on occasions to get the better of stubborn visiting teams.

However, the only victory in front of the home faithful by more than a single-goal margin was the 3-0 win over Cardiff in September.

Neil had made no secret of the fact that he wants North End to be stronger on the front foot at home.

It’s something which he has spoken about since the start of the season but has acknowledged will take time to do.

The PNE squad still has a counter-attack mentality which is no bad thing and could yet help them sustain a play-off push.

But in the longer term Neil desires them to have the ability to take the game to the opposition at home and be able to find the necessary gaps in their armoury.

It is also important that they don’t lose that ability to rat and hustle teams when on the road.

As North End move into their last dozen league games of the campaign, it will be interesting to see who Neil deploys in attack.

Since Jordan Hugill’s exit on transfer deadline day, Neil has tried a couple of different approaches.

The 4-2-3-1 system with Callum Robinson up front, supported by a No.10 and two wingers, is one he clearly seems comfortable with.

Against Villa and Ipswich, Neil went for Robinson and Louis Moult up top in a 4-4-2.

It brought more joy in the Villa game than it did last week when Robinson was hauled off in the first half.

Personally speaking, I felt his removal so early in the game was premature and could have waited until the interval or just beyond.

Neil’s attacking approach at Bolton will no doubt be something he has given a lot of thought to this week.

Wanderers tend to use the 3-5-2 formation which Ipswich did – one which was to blunt North End’s attack.

Then again it is unlikely that Bolton, as the hosts, will want to sit as deep and tight in the manner Ipswich did once they got in front.

Does Neil go for the more nimble 4-2-3-1 to move the Trotters about or press right up against their defence?

When it comes to the shape of the attack, it should not be long before we can start to factor Sean Maguire into the equation.

Tuesday’s bounce game at Burnley was the latest step on the Irishman’s road to full fitness after an operation to reunite hamstring muscle and tendon in his left leg.

While it is important not to heap too much pressure on the shoulders of a player coming back from a long-term injury, Maguire’s return when it happens will be a welcome one.

Finally, orange might not be the most popular colour in these parts but as snow covers all the country, surely this is time for the humble orange football to make its comeback?

Watching Tottenham’s 
FA Cup win over Rochdale 
on Wembley’s white pitch was nigh on impossible at times.

The yellow ball blended in with the snow which lay quite substantially.

I’m sure Nike and Mitre could get an orange ball on the production line.

In days gone by when games were played on a snowy pitch, an orange ball was rolled out as a matter of course – who remembers the classic adidas orange tango ball of the late 1970s?