Ipswich Town host fellow high-achievers Preston North End in the Championship this afternoon (3pm). Mark Heath looks at the Lilywhites…
The story so far
It’s fair to say that Preston has so far defied expectations.
Ryan Lowe’s charges looked questionable in the midweek pre-season defeat to Town, and many struggled.
But they started as a team, winning six of their first seven matches to move top of the table. They almost went through the first two months of the season unbeaten but were defeated 0-4 at home by West Brom last weekend.
This was followed by another heavy defeat, 0-3 to Flying Foxes Leicester City, in midweek.
So they went to Suffolk as a team with question marks. Sitting in third place, are they really as good as their fast start suggests or have they been playing too well and have recently been spotted by some of the strongest teams in the league?
The stats show the latter – North End are a modest 22nd for xG (expected goals per 90 minutes) in the Championship with 0.81, a table where Town only top with 1, 89. However, Lowe’s side have the best xGA (expected goals) in the league away from home at just 1.06.
Lowe, as you would expect, supports his team. After Wednesday’s defeat to Leicester – which was 0-0 after an hour – he said:
“It’s really difficult.
“I thought we played great for about 50 minutes until they scored the first goal, which was disappointing on our part – we went to the ground when we could have blocked it.
“We didn’t have much of the ball, but I can’t fault our effort. Towards the end we were on our feet a bit, which was expected.
“They have a player in (Kiernan) Dewsbury-Hall who should not be playing at this level. But we are not afraid of them, we respect them.
“They are normal people but they have different qualities compared to most members of the Championship.”
After losing to the top team, how will North End compete against the remaining team that is far from the championship chasing group?
The Preston boss, after heaping praise on the Blues following the aforementioned pre-season defeat, said he expected a sobering assessment of his Suffolk team. “It’s going to be difficult, we know that,” he told the media on Thursday.
“Kieran McKenna helps them play good football and they are a threat at home – but we are also on our day so we have to get back to that.
“I thought we were fantastic without the ball (against Leicester), can we handle the ball a little better? This must be our goal.
“It will be a difficult game, we know that, but it is a game we are looking forward to. “They have good players, right? This group has been together for a while and they were eliminated from the league last season and continue to do so.
“There are a lot of clubs that leave League One and continue to play and have the ability to go back there.
“I don’t think Kieran will be too excited because this tournament is very difficult. We, too. “We knew we were going to have a tough afternoon because they are a good team.”