Give it the feel of an away match – after all they have been so comfortable on the road so far this season.
Some jolt is needed to get North End off this dreadful run at home, one which is a major concern for fans and no doubt inside the dressing room too, irrespective of the brave public face Neil and his players put on.
They insist they don’t want to turn it into a major issue but naturally it is.
You can’t have the joint-best away record in the Championship but not a bean to show for your efforts on home turf and not expect it to be a talking point.
The highs of what is being achieved on their travels is being undone whenever they step back in PR1.
Ten points from four away matches, ‘nul points’ on the board from the same number of games at home.
All eyes will therefore be on Deepdale as North End seek to prevent Birmingham following in the footsteps of Swansea, Stoke, Cardiff and Millwall in taking three points home with them.
What is going wrong at home this season? Is it the mindset – PNE having the jitters about playing at home the longer the run goes on?
Is it the fact they struggle against any side willing to sit deep and play on the break, something the four sides who have won here have done?
Do the tactics need a tweak or is it the formation which is wrong?
If North End can start bringing themselves off this run, those questions will start to answer themselves.
The four home defeats have all had similar traits, a dull first half certainly in the Swansea, Cardiff and Millwall matches – Stoke the exception in that Preston had a good start until Tom Barkhuizen’s red card.
Stoke scored their winner late in the first half, while Swansea, Cardiff and Swansea all nosed ahead early in the second.
The games have then settled into a pattern of North End having plenty of the ball but not having the zip and creativity to forge an equaliser.
It is not as if they don’t have those things in their locker, just look at the away matches for proof they do.
They’ve scored 10 goals to put those 10 points on the board –we’re not talking about 1-0 victories being eked out – 2-2 at Norwich, 4-2 against Brentford, a 2-0 win at QPR and 2-1 last week at Huddersfield.
North End’s play has been a joy to watch in those games, think Ryan Ledson’s pass in the build-up to Darnell Fisher scoring at Norwich.
Think the 18-minute demolition of Brentford, think Emil Riis taking the QPR defence apart brick by brick, think Alan Browne’s double against Huddersfield, and all those other chances created in that exciting finale at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Yet at home they’ve been a shadow of that.
Supporters don’t seem keen on the 4-2-3-1 system when it is used at Deepdale, in that there is only one central striker.
Going 4-4-2 could leave the midfield outnumbered, the trend for most managers and coaches at the moment to have three in there.
So maybe 3-4-1-2 is the way to go just now, that the formation PNE hurriedly switched to once they’d had the teamsheet at Huddersfield.
That gives the numbers in midfield, sufficient cover at the back, and two up front.
Wing-backs are key in that formation, so it’s a case of having to use full-backs or wingers in those wide areas and do some things which won’t come naturally.
The full-backs might not have the attacking instincts needed, wingers could find it tough tracking back.
After hosting Birmingham, North End don’t play at Deepdale again until November 21 when they face Sheffield Wednesday.
Then three days after that it’s the Lancashire derby with Blackburn.
Those two home games are followed by trips to Watford and Bournemouth.
However good Preston’s away form is, those two away days will be tough. So to have banked a few home points by then will be important.
That’s a good while off, it is this weekend where the focus needs to be. Of the four home defeats, the display on Wednesday night against Millwall was the poorest.
Maybe the stomach bug doing the rounds in the dressing room didn’t do them any favours but putting that to one side, it was a timid performance.
The moment Kenneth Zohore side-footed the Lions in front, there was a sense of inevitability as to the outcome.
Millwall’s second goal was the only diversion from the pattern of the previous three home defeats, that killing off any hope of a late push.
If North End are to fall behind at home, they need to get out of the mindset that the game is beyond them, that it’s a ‘1-0’ game.
They’ve gone behind away to Brentford and Huddersfield, turning both in their favour – and in some style too.
Recent results show how quickly the mood swings in football. North End started the week with a spring in their step on the back of successive away wins.
Yet a home defeat
derailed that joy, turning the spotlight on Birmingham’s visit.
On a lighter note, what is happening to the dress sense of managers and head coaches on the touchline?
Pep Guardiola’s hipster look is starting to be copied, the club tracksuit or sharp suit being swapped by some for a ‘night on the tiles’ look.
Huddersfield head coach Carlos Corberan sported skinny white chinos and white trainers when PNE were in town last week.
I referred to them at the time as jeans rather than chinos but one of my Twitter followers put me right on the fashion stakes – cheers for that Gok.
Rest assured, the skinny trousers fashion won’t be finding its way into the press box!
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