WalesOnline: Preston United Scout Report

Second article written for WalesOnline, and also published in the South Wales Echo

Cardiff City host Preston North End on Tuesday night in a clash that will see the Bluebirds eager for revenge following their 3-0 humiliation at Deepdale back in September.

Preston come into the fixture on the back of impressive form, undefeated in the league since Boxing Day, having faced tough tests against Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Brighton. Indeed, they saw off high-flying Brighton 2-1 two weeks ago and are just five points from the play-offs.

Here’s what Cardiff City fans need to know ahead of the match.

Style of Play

Preston like to take the game to their opponents and will look to expose Cardiff’s flanks. It will be a testing night for the City fullbacks, especially for Jazz Richards, should he play, who is still on the path to gaining full match fitness.

Alongside this, the LillyWhites rely upon the individual technique of Football League veteran Paul Gallagher to carve out opportunities.

At the heart of their midfield is Manchester United academy product Ben Pearson who breaks up play and initiates Preston’s attacks. The midfielder provides a balance for the flair and invention provided by the likes of Gallagher, Aiden McGeady and Daniel Johnson.

The battle between Preston’s Pearson and Cardiff’s Aron Gunnarsson will be an intriguing one and may determine the fate of the match.

Simon Grayson enforces a high press and his team will pounce upon loose balls and poor touches. City will have to be weary of the organised intensity prevalent within Preston’s tenacity.

Danger Men

Jordan Hugil

Hugil strikes an imposing figure on a football pitch and has used his height to his advantage this season, netting nine times. Hugil thrives on aerial battles and is the main target for Preston’s wide-men. The likes of Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba will have to be on their toes to negate his influence.

Aiden McGeady

A mercurial talent that can either turn match-winner or villain. The forward has a wealth of experience at the top level, playing for serial winners Celtic and Premier League side Everton.

McGeady is blessed with an abundance of trickery and technique but is guilty of inconsistency. Still, Cardiff’s midfield and defence will still have to hassle the Republic of Ireland international if they are to stall the Preston attack.

Preston's Aiden McGeady
Preston’s Aiden McGeady

Manager

Simon Grayson has led his Preston team from the depths of League One to Championship play-off contenders in just three years. It is clear Grayson has instilled a strong camaraderie and has produced a team spirit that rivals any team within the Championship.

In Grayson, the Preston players have a manager they are willing to fight for – the kind of philosophy that Neil Warnock is attempting to embed in his side. This is evident in the determination and character they showed when the fought back against a 2-0 deficit at a daunting Villa Park to walk away with a well-earned point. It was once more in show with Hugil’s 89th minute strike to snatch a point against Ipswich Town on the weekend.

Preston boss Simon Grayson
Preston boss Simon Grayson (Photo: Huddersfield Examiner)

Weaknesses

For all their progressive play and effective team spirit, there is a reason they aren’t a fixture in the play-offs just yet. Preston do have weaknesses that can be exploited by Warnock’s men.

One flaw, which will delight Warnock, is their often poor defending at set pieces. With 18 of Cardiff’s 32 goals this season coming from set-pieces, this is an area that the Bluebirds should target. It will be music to the ears of Sean Morrison, Sol Bamba and Aron Gunnarsson – all of who have chipped in with headed goals this term.

Coupled with this, Preston’s away form is a source of hope. They have only won four of their twelve away matches this season. Compare this with Cardiff’s three wins away from home and consider that Cardiff have been engaged in a relegation fight for the most part of the season, then Preston’s form is not impressive and demonstrates a frailty on the road.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock

How do Preston fans view Cardiff?

Tom Hardman: “When you played us at Deepdale under Paul Trollope you looked like a side ready to go down, but under Neil Warnock you look like a team hard to beat on your own patch. I was impressed with your side’s win against Bristol City at home and you could finish mid-table this year.”

Prediction

This will be a tightly contested match, with both sets of players ready to scrap. However, Preston’s ambitious attacking play could see them snared in a Cardiff counter-attack. City may only have a few opportunities on Tuesday night and will need to take their chances if they are to bounce back from two consecutive defeats.

It would be a surprise if Warnock’s team were to fall to a third consecutive defeat.

1-0 to Cardiff.

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