|Preston North End 3 v 2 Ipswich Town
Saturday, 3rd February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
McKenna: Preston Still a Difficult Proposition
Friday, 2nd Feb 2024 16:40
Town boss Kieran McKenna says Preston North End, who the Blues meet at Deepdale on Saturday afternoon, remain a difficult proposition, despite falling away after a promising start to the season.
The Lilywhites topped the Championship table in the early stages of the campaign and were third when they met the Blues, who were already in their current position of second, at Portman Road towards the start of October.
However, the Lancastrians are now 12th in the division and have won only one of their last five in the Championship, although that was a 2-1 home defeat of fourth-placed Leeds United on Boxing Day.
At Deepdale this season they have won seven, drawn two and lost five. No one in the division has conceded more goals at home than their 24, the joint-highest alongside local rivals Blackburn Rovers.
Home and away, only two teams in the Championship have conceded more than the 47 they have shipped.
McKenna was asked whether he was surprised that North End had slipped down the table following that impressive start to the season.
“Of course, they started really well and it's always going to be really hard for any team to maintain the position that they were in. That's why you’d think we've had, and deservedly so, a lot of credit for maintaining our form to this point.
“But it's such a competitive division that every game is difficult and, as I see them, they've still got the ingredients that started well and that served them well at the start of the season.
“They're still a really hard-working, aggressive team who impose their physicality well and are aggressive with and without the ball.
“And at home, they're a really difficult proposition as well, so we know we're going to be in for a tough game.”
Now the transfer window is out of the way, McKenna is aiming to maintain the Blues’ automatic promotion challenge in the final 18 games of the campaign.
“But we're really enjoying it. We have to enjoy the last 18 games. We know we've probably already achieved a greater points total than an average newly-promoted team from League One does if we weren't to pick up another point. But, of course, that's not the goal.
“So, we're enjoying it and we have to keep enjoying it, keep playing the way that we want to play, and try to perform as well as we can.”
Having added to his squad, particularly his attacking ranks by adding Kieffer Moore, Ali Al Hamadi and Jeremy Sarmiento during the window, McKenna says his side will now be able to present opposition teams with different problems.
“I think you're always trying to have variety in your playing squad because that helps you have variety in your play, especially your attacking play,” he reflected.
“And I think that's something that we've done well over the last 12 months. As I said, have different ways to threaten teams.
“I think you could say a specialist in those areas and a real threat in those areas. My belief is always that we have to adapt to the quality of the players and utilise their best attributes while still staying true to our beliefs about how we want to play and how we want the Ipswich team to look.
“So, with Kieffer, with Jeremy or with Ali especially as forward players, we'll try our very best to set the team up to bring out their best attributes. The three of them certainly bring different attributes to the squad.”
McKenna will probably largely return to the team which drew 1-1 away against leaders Leicester in their most recent Championship match.
Vaclav Hladky will return in goal with Harry Clarke at right-back, Leif Davis at left-back and Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson the centre-halves.
Skipper Sam Morsy will return in midfield having served his two-mathc ban and is likely to be partnered by Massimo Luongo.
In the three ahead of them, Conor Chaplin will almost certainly continue in the middle with Wes Burns to his right and Marcus Harness perhaps again getting the nod on the left, although Sarmiento may well have done enough with his recent performances to put himself in the frame for a full league debut for the Blues.
Moore, on loan from AFC Bournemouth, is likely to be handed his second Town debut but his first start for the club, seven years after initially signing for the Blues from Forest Green Rovers. Fellow new signing Al-Hamadi is likely to play a part from the bench.
Preston will have centre-half Jack Whatmough back in the squad, having missed four games due to a knee problem, along with midfielder Ali McCann, who returns having been unwell.
But striker Ched Evans is again absent with a hamstring injury, while young defender Kian Best is sidelined having rolled his ankle.
Historically, the Lancastrians just have the edge, Town having won 13 games (12 in the league) between the sides while Preston have been victorious on 14 (12) occasions and 11 (10) matches have ended in draws.
The sides met at Portman Road in October when Town went into the international break second in the Championship following a 4-2 victory over third-placed Preston, who they then led by eight points.
Chaplin gave the Blues the lead in the 18th minute, before Mads Frøkjær levelled for the visitors nine minutes later.
Brandon Williams made it 2-1 with a brilliant solo goal and Broadhead netted a third in first-half injury time.
Town made a slow start to the second half and Lilywhites’ sub Ben Whiteman pulled a goal back on 52 but Kayden Jackson sealed Town’s ninth win of the season 12 minutes from time as all five subs combined.
The teams last met at Deepdale in pre-season in a friendly when goals from Chaplin and Hirst saw the Blues to a 2-1 victory, Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile pulling a goal back for the Lilywhites late on.
The clubs’ last competitive meeting at Deepdale was in April 2019 when Callum Robinson and Lukas Nmecha each scored twice as Preston beat Town 4-0, the already-relegated Blues’ heaviest defeat of that season.
Robinson netted on six and 22 to give the Lilywhites a comfortable half-time lead and Nmecha sealed the Lancastrians’ comprehensive win with his brace in the second half.
The jaded-looking Blues, who never looked like getting anything from the game following a slow start in which Robinson netted the opening goal, went closest to scoring when Kayden Jackson hit the bar in the second half.
Ex-Town striker Keane joined the Lilywhites in the summer having spent a year and a half at Portman Road between January 2019 and May 2021, after initially joining on loan before signing a one-year deal.
The former Manchester United youngster made 28 starts and 13 substitute appearances, scoring nine goals.
Ex-Town keeper Dai Cornell joined the Lilywhites in June 2022 but has made only three appearances this season. The Welshman made 15 starts for the Blues in his only season at the club, 2020/21.
Saturday’s referee is Graham Scott from Oxfordshire, who has shown 64 yellow cards and three red in 14 games so far this season.
Scott’s last Town match was the 2-2 draw at Rotherham in November when he booked Morsy and one Millers player.
His previous Blues game came way back in the final Championship fixture of the 2014/15 season at Blackburn when the Blues were beaten 3-2 but still made the play-offs.
Scott yellow-carded Cole Skuse and Jay Tabb that day and awarded the Blues a penalty, which was dispatched by Daryl Murphy, after Teddy Bishop had been felled by Tommy Spurr. At the other end, Rovers had a decent call dismissed after Tyrone Mings tripped Adam Henley.
Prior to that, Scott was in charge of the 1-0 FA Cup replay defeat to Southampton at Portman Road in January 2015 in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.
He also refereed the 2-1 home victory over Doncaster in April 2014, cautioning Christophe Berra and three of the visitors.
Earlier that season, Scott was the man in the middle for the 1-0 home loss to Burnley, again not using his cards throughout the 90 minutes.
The previous season, he took control of the 2-0 home loss to Wolves, booking two of the Midlanders and Michael Chopra.
In August 2011, in his first Town match, he sent off both Lee Martin and Tommy Smith - the first time Town had ever had two players red-carded in the same match - as the Blues were hammered 7-1 at Peterborough, also booking Damien Delaney, Grant Leadbitter and two Posh players.
Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Morsy, Travis, Luongo, Ball, Burns, Chaplin, Broadhead, Harness, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Moore, Al-Hamadi, Jackson.
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