WMS: What are your expectations for Preston North End this season?
GH: After finishing mid-table last season you’d hope to see the Lilywhites kick on, but I think PNE need to be realistic given the strength of the Championship – on paper – this year. The three relegated sides look extremely well equipped, so it’s going to be tough for Preston to break into that play-off picture. There has also been a lot of change within the squad, with some quality undoubtedly lost but a few encouraging signings made too. Manager Ryan Lowe is still finding his feet at this level as well; he has brought in a couple of new coaches this summer to boost his backroom team. Preston will hopefully have enough to stay clear of the drop zone, so I’ll go for another mid-table finish – perhaps around 15th spot.
WMS: What is Preston North End’s preferred formation?
GH: Lowe plays 3-5-2, or 3-4-2-1 with two number tens, 95 per cent of the time. He believes in that system but North End are yet to get the absolute best out of it, you feel. Wing-backs are clearly a crucial element to the formation and they are not easy to find, as PNE have found in the past few transfer windows. It’s a big season for Lowe to get North End firing in the system he swears by, though he has spoken about tactical flexibility and the need to adapt at times.
WMS: Do you think Ryan Lowe will likely tinker with this formation against Sunderland?
GH: He has played a back four a handful of times as PNE boss but North End’s issue is that they do not have out and out wingers, unlike Sunderland. However, right wing-back Calvin Ramsay is injured and left wing-back Robbie Brady is too, so Preston are relying on 17-year-old Kian Best down the left flank. He made his professional debut on the opening day, while Brad Potts continues down the right. Best equipped himself well at Ashton Gate but dealing with someone of Patrick Roberts’ individual ability could be another matter. It’s a tough one for Lowe this weekend.
WMS: What do you think Preston’s likely starting XI will be?
GH: Freddie Woodman; Jordan Storey, Liam Lindsay, Andrew Hughes; Brad Potts, Ali McCann, Duane Holmes, Kian Best, Mads Frokjaer, Alan Browne, Will Keane.
WMS: Who are North End’s key players?
GH: Freddie Woodman had a solid debut season at Deepdale and he will play a huge part once again between the sticks. PNE need a big year from captain Alan Browne, who could thrive in a more advanced midfield role alongside summer recruit Mads Frokjaer – who looks a real goal threat with his powerful runs into the box and shooting ability from distance. Preston’s top scorer in 2021/22, Emil Riis, is out injured until next month.
WMS: Best Preston signing of the summer so far?
GH: In time this may prove to be Frokjaer, who is the sort of creative signing PNE fans have wanted to see. But right now, you’d have to say Will Keane as he is the only fit senior striker at the club – with Ched Evans and Emil Riis sidelined. Keane got off the mark at Bristol City with a tidy finish and he looks like he’s going to be huge in the first month of the campaign for North End. He has the traits to be a focal point, link player and finisher.
WMS: Which Sunderland player do you think Preston will be worried about most?
GH: Probably Patrick Roberts, given the fact PNE are relying on a young lad to step up and perform at left wing-back so soon in his professional career. North End saw what Sunderland’s attacking players are capable of at Deepdale last season and they will be desperate to do better here. Preston can’t afford Alex Pritchard nor Jack Clarke the time and space they offered in that second half back in May.
WMS: Where do you think Sunderland will finish in the league?
GH: I had them making the play-offs in my pre-season predictions, so I’ll go for sixth. That may well hinge on keeping Jack Clarke, who is one of the most enjoyable players in the Championship to watch in my opinion. As always, the rest of the transfer window will have a big say but Sunderland look like they have a real chance to build on a strong first season back in the Championship – under a manager who knows exactly what he’s doing.
WMS: Score prediction for Saturday?
GH: I’ll back PNE to take something from the game but I’m expecting a tough test and hopefully an entertaining match. 2-2.
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