Preston North End can make October statement with Leicester City first up in daunting month
As soon as this season’s Championship fixtures were released on June 22, the month of October jumped off the page from a Preston North End perspective. This season’s lineup in the second tier looked as strong as ever regardless, but the imminent five game run had all the ingredients of a potentially challenging and testing period. As it turns out, Ryan Lowe’s men are actually heading into it in an unbelievable position.
North End’s 20 points from their first nine games has them third in the table, coincidentally behind their next two opponents in Leicester City and Ipswich Town. It has been a remarkable start to the league campaign for Preston, who suffered a first - but heavy - blow last time out, as West Brom won 0-4 at Deepdale. The weekend’s drubbing against the Baggies should have sent determination levels soaring for the midweek encounter at the King Power Stadium, though.
North End will go toe-to-toe with a side taking the Championship by storm and one threatening, already, to replicate Burnley’s canter of a title win last season. It’s eight wins and one defeat for the Foxes, who have scored 18 goals and conceded just six. Needless to say, then, that PNE will need everyone to stand up and be counted. A complete, committed and near-on faultless team performance will be needed against Enzo Maresca’s men.
North End have to bounce back from the disappointment of Saturday and put in a miles better performance, otherwise they will be in for a ghastly evening. Preston will know they were way off the pace against Albion, so the midweek encounter is one North End must relish and show no fear in. Too much respect was shown to West Brom; likely due to the apparent fatigue on the day rather than by design. Preston will need to strike the balance between respecting and combating Leicester’s quality, but making the 90 minutes a battle and giving themselves the opportunity to cause problems.
It is an extremely tough assignment on paper, with a quick look at Leicester’s squad a pretty daunting 30 seconds. Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho were on the Foxes’ bench at Ewood Park; Jamie Vardy, Harry Winks, Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira just four star names in Leicester’s starting lineup. But if PNE have aspirations of staying up the table in the long-run - and Lowe does have a group of players desperate to do well for the club and each other - then these are the occasions to handle and show a bit of steel, character and belief in.
What will be will be, but North End will have little time to celebrate or dwell in the aftermath of Wednesday’s tussle. Preston will stay down south until Saturday’s clash at Portman Road, against an Ipswich Town side living up to the hype and tearing it up early doors. Kieran McKenna’s men have blossomed into a serious force and kept up their relentless goal scoring in a league above. It will require a massive team effort against the Tractor Boys.
PNE then return to home soil to face Millwall - a side who’ve enjoyed coming to Deepdale in recent years and who, under Gary Rowett, are never a team to take lightly. The Lions’ form has been mixed to date but North End have had enough encounter’s with Rowett’s men to know the challenges they pose. Millwall are never a team you want to go behind against. They are as frustrating and difficult as any opponent on their day.
Southampton then head up to Lancashire, for a match in front of the Sky Sports cameras and the first meeting between the two clubs in 12 years. Under possession-mad manager Russell Martin, the Saints have had some difficult days already this season - with heavy defeats to Sunderland and Leicester among a run of straight four defeats. Adam Armstrong is starting to score goals though and Southampton’s team, on paper, has quality in abundance. PNE’s game plan and tactics on the night will be vital, against a side who take risks on the ball.
Hull City provide the final test - a team who also lock horns with Millwall, Ipswich and Southampton this month. Liam Rosenior looks to be on to a good thing with the Tigers. His side are fifth in the table at the time of writing, having won four, drawn four and lost once. Hull have won three on the bounce away from home, with Aaron Connolly the dangerman in attack. There are 15 points up for grabs and not a single one of them will come easy for Preston, who best be up for the fight and well prepped as they look to build on a hugely positive start.