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Scout Report: Preston - How can Sunderland slow down the in-form Lillywhites?

Sunderland have not won a league game since August, and suffered another embarrassing defeat midweek. Are there any signs of weakness at Preston, and can Sunderland exploit them on Saturday?

Preston North End v Chesterfield - Sky Bet League 1 Playoff Semi-Final Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

The story so far

Preston have enjoyed a very steady start to the Championship season and find themselves positioned in fourth, with 19 points from 10 games. Alex Neil has managed to implement his ideas with the squad, and they seem to have warmed to them; Preston have not lost a match since August 15th.

The Lillywhites began the season with a tidy home victory over Sheffield Wednesday 1-0. They then picked up an away point at Leeds before losing their only game of the season so far, to Derby in their third game. Since then they have won four games and drawn three - including impressive victories over Cardiff City, Hull City and Reading. Preston have only allowed four goals to go against them this season - 15 less than Sunderland.


Last time out

Preston took a deserved three points from Humberside on Tuesday night - something Sunderland could not do a couple of weeks ago - by beating Hull City 2-1. Alex Neil and his team managed to execute a perfect game plan against Hull by defending and counter attacking.

The opening goal of the game came courtesy of Tom Barkhuizen who netted after a penalty box scramble. Hull then managed to grab an equaliser through a break away from Jarrod Bowen as the young striker slotted past Preston goalie Chris Maxwell. The defining moment of the game came with just moments to spare, with former Aston Villa player Callum Robinson firing into an open net after some horrendous Hull City defending.


Injuries

Ben Pearson and Paul Gallagher are expected to miss the game this weekend.

Alex Neil has said that they are the only injury concerns heading into the weekend that are not long-term.


Dangerman: Jordan Hugill

Jordan Hugill was a reported target for Sunderland throughout the summer, and the 25 year old will no doubt be a thorn in our side this weekend. During the week we saw Martyn Waghorn - former player and one that was rumoured to have been turned down by Sunderland this summer - dominate the game against us, even bagging himself a goal and a few assists. Therefore it seems ‘Sunderlandy’ for Hugill to fulfill a similar destiny this weekend.

Newcastle United v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Hugill bagged a goal against the mags last season.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Hugill possesses many qualities and is known mainly for his physical presence. The Boro-born striker has four goals this season, but his tally will likely increase since the cloud of transfer rumours have dissipated with the closing of the window. He will undoubtedly be looking to prove himself on Saturday, and show his former boss that he should have pushed the boat out to sign him during the summer.

He should probably be thanking him.


Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Chris Kavanagh will be taking charge of the third Sunderland game of his career; his first two appointments saw Sunderland lose 1-0 to Southampton in the EFL cup last season and 3-0 to Barnsley away this season.

The Barnsley game was not Kavanagh’s finest body of work, with the official only carding a Barnsley player for clearly preventing a goal-scoring opportunity for James Vaughan. The decision was appalling, and ultimately halted any chance of us getting back in to the game. Hopefully he can do us a favour this weekend to make up for it.


Manager: Alex Neil

When Sunderland paid Preston for the services of Simon Grayson this summer they afforded the Lillywhites the opportunity to hire Alex Neil as their new manager. The talented Scotsman was sacked by Norwich during the 2016-17 campaign after a poor run of results.

Neil began his managerial career at Hamilton in Scotland, which is where he enjoyed over 200 games as a player. He earned a promotion in his first season and guided Hamilton to an away win at Celtic during his tenure. He was poached by Norwich, who were struggling in the Championship, and guided them to promotion after winning 17 of 25 games.

A disappointing season in the Premier League followed and Norwich were relegated thanks mainly to Sunderland's resurgence under Sam Allardyce. We will all remember our 3-0 victory down at Carrow road in our run to survival, I’m sure.

The next season was equally disappointing for Alex Neil as the team drifted out of promotion contention leading up to his sacking in March. He then landed the Preston job, where he has made a fine start.


Statistical analysis

Well, really what can we say? If Preston are competent and don't offer the ball to us in key areas then we aren't likely to score. On the flipside if Preston offer almost no creativity it is likely we will present them with opportunities.

www.whoscored.com

Preston - like almost every Championship side - are not great with the ball. But what they are capable of doing is maximising their squad potential to cover up their limitations. Simply put: they will approach the game with determination and make sure they give a good account of themselves.

Essentially Preston are statistically just miles better than us and that’s certainly what our friends at www.whoscored.com think. While statistics certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of the beautiful game, it’s hard to imagine this Sunderland side producing the raw talent and determination required to overcome the clear disparities the stats indicate. It is hard to disagree with the numbers.


Predicted lineup