Dave Seddon's PNE Pressview: Who is going to put the ball in Blackpool's net for Preston this time?

After an absence of eight years from the football calendar, Preston North End and Blackpool are ready to renew hostilities.
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Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since the last meeting. Was it really as long ago as August 2013 when Tom Clarke put the ball in the Blackpool net?

That was the League Cup, with you having to go back to November 2009 for PNE’s last visit to Bloomfield Road and to February 2010 for the last Championship meeting at Deepdale.

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It’s absence that makes the heart go fonder, or in the case of these two clubs, increases the sense of rivalry.

Tom Clarke wheels away after scoring against Blackpool in 2013Tom Clarke wheels away after scoring against Blackpool in 2013
Tom Clarke wheels away after scoring against Blackpool in 2013

North End and the Seasiders dare I say it, have almost missed one another while bobbing around in different divisions.

Now they are back on equal footing and I’ve no doubt that October 23 was a date ringed in red on many calendars when the fixture list was published in June.

From my watching of PNE down the years, this is the derby which has the biggest edge to it.

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That said, there will be some Preston supporters who don’t regard this quite as a the big one.

It can be down to where you live and something as simple as age.

Some of the younger fans won’t have seen a North End versus Blackpool game.

There will be supporters living in areas of Preston and beyond for who Blackburn are the main rivals.

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Others cut their teeth watching the PNE-Burnley derby, simply because that was the only local clash for quite a few years.

There have been a number of interruptions in the Lilywhites and Tangerines meeting.

From March 1974 through to September 1987, the sides didn’t play one another in the league.

The FA Cup in December 1982 – my first experience of this derby – and meetings two seasons running in the League Cup in 1985 and 1986 were the meagre rations.

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That FA Cup tie played at Deepdale perhaps showed what interest there is in games against Blackpool.

The average league crowd at home for PNE that season was 4,941. Blackpool’s visit in the second round drew an attendance of 14,145.

League meetings became more regular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Then again there was a break as North End dropped down a division, the FA Cup serving-up a Monday night meeting to keep us going in 1994 – that time it was Mickey Conroy putting the ball in the Blackpool net.

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There was a seven-year gap between 2000 and 2007, before the clubs met three seasons running.

Then came Tom Clarke’s big night and that brings us bang up to date.

The build-up to the derby has not been without its controversies.

That revolved around the ticket allocation for North End, with 2,200 seats made available.

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Coming on the back of Blackburn and Barnsley getting 3,100 tickets, it has not sat comfortably with the travelling faithful.

Sale priority only got to the second level – after the ambassadors, season card holders with a good number of loyalty points got next dibs. Then they were gone.

There’s a beam back at Deepdale which in a small way can compensate those who missed out on a ticket.

I do hope it is what happens on the pitch which gets the headlines rather than anything off it.

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I’ve got a few good memories of visits to Bloomfield Road down the years.

The Tony Ellis hat-trick game 29 years ago was an obvious favourite. That was Sam Allardyce’s second game as PNE caretaker manager.

Ryan Kidd made his North End debut that day as an early substitute and even a lad called Finney appeared on the team-sheet – Steven Finney replacing Ellis in the closing stages.

The visit two years earlier for a 2-2 draw was decent.

It came in a season when PNE’s away record was pretty dreadful but Graham Shaw and Brian Mooney scored to earn a point.

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After the game it was back to Preston to watch Frank Sidebottom at Lancashire Polytechnic as UCLan was then known.

I missed the 3-1 win there in November 2008, a Sunday lunchtime kick-off, due to my wife being eight months pregnant at the time.

A year later I was in the press box covering the 1-1 draw on a Monday night, Ross Wallace equalising with an impressive up-and-over free-kick.

Back to the present day and this game is a hard one to call. Blackpool are three points better off, having scored one more goal than North End – who have conceded two less than Saturday’s hosts.

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Victory by the sea and it is hero status for the PNE team, defeat and it’s another stick for some to beat Frankie McAvoy with.

I rather enjoyed the fact McAvoy came out swinging after the Coventry win, not because of the subject matter but because it showed another side to him.

Beating Coventry was a big result by the mere fact it was their first league win since late August.

It was needed on the back of the flat performance against Derby last Saturday.

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In terms of moving the ball, I thought Coventry were the better side in the first half without creating too many chances.

We saw a much better second-half show, with players stepping up.

Patrick Bauer’s header from a good 14 yards was pinpoint accurate in that it glanced the inside of the post on the way in – no keeper was going to reach that far.

Thank goodness the net got in the way of Emil Riis’ shot for the second goal, otherwise the ball would have carried to the other end of Deepdale Road.

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Riis knows how to leather a football and steadily the Dane is notching the goals.

Wednesday night saw Alan Browne play his 300th game for PNE.

I remember his first in March 2014, a shy teenager coming off the bench just a couple of months after being signed from Irish football.

It’s been quite a journey since, congratulations Alan.

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