Preston North End may surprise the neutrals this weekend
Most Championship sides have two league games under their belt in the current season. This weekend, Preston North End have an opportunity. Recently relegated Stoke City visit Deepdale. The Lilywhites can take advantage of a struggling side.
Preston finished seventh last season, so close to the playoffs but so far. Alex Neil made few changes to his squad but wants to keep it fresh. Results in the early doors have been mixed. A win against Queens Park Rangers and defeat to Swansea City delivered three from a possible six points.
In both matches, Preston fielded a 4-1-4-1 formation. During their 1-0 win against QPR, Neil's side claimed 64% possession. Despite losing to early playoff favourites Swansea, the Lancashire-based side boasted even more of the ball.
When Stoke arrive on Saturday, Preston fans can expect their side to press the visitors. Gary Rowett's side has struggled in their first two fixtures. A 3-1 loss away to Leeds United and a 1-1 draw with Brentford prove even a recently relegated Premier League side cannot take it easy in the Championship.
Rowett favours a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. The Potters haven't held more than 44% possession in either game. They aren't as dangerous on the counter as such low numbers require.
If Neil has done his homework on Rowett's side, he knows tomorrow's game is there for the taking. Preston has only scored once but Stoke's attacking intent hasn't exactly been promising. Brentford had 14 goal attempts at the Bet365 Stadium. Stoke only managed half, at home. Both Potters' goals came from Benik Afobe, a penalty against Leeds United and a Brentford defensive error which led the striker to an open goal. Preston need only stay organised and disciplined to handle the Congolese striker.
On the other side, Lewis Moult may fancy a run out against the side with whom he spent two loan spells before coming to Deepdale. The 26-year-old played 77 minutes against QPR in the opener but didn't score. He was unused in the loss to Swansea.
Two games in, it 's tough to judge teams. It's the Championship; we know the table can change in short order. Forty-four games remain. That's a lot of football to get through. Midweek games are common, even before you factor in cup ties that further clog the fixture list. Teams need depth to keep their players fit and well. While the Football League aligned with the Premier League, closing their transfer window on 9 August, the lower tiers retained the option to sign players on loan until 31 August. Both Preston and Stoke might want to avail themselves of the option
Preston started well but, on paper, don't have Stoke's depth. They're lucky to catch their opponents before the Potters have settled into the division. It's an opportunity Neil shouldn't waste
A playoff push becomes more tangible with a result this weekend. Claiming a scalp against a side many have picked to win the league would provide serious momentum. Preston must strike the right balance from the off. They don't want Stoke to find their rhythm. With proper preparation and focus, Preston North End can produce a shocker this weekend.