Pre-match Report: Preston North End

Follow us on Twitter @claretandview // Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH)

Coming off of a meaningful draw against Birmingham City a mere three days ago, Aston Villa will travel to Deepdale to take on Preston North End. Preston have hit a sour run of form as of late, as they have only tasted victory in one of their last five games. While Preston have the ability to turn Villa over in a manner of terms, Steve Bruce would do himself and the Villa faithful justice by continuing to produce points away from home. Especially after the hard game Villa had to endure at the hands of Birmingham City in terms of physicality and mental toughness.

Preston currently sit 10th on the Championship Table with 21 points, which is a pretty respectable position for this stage of the season. A win against Villa, and results falling elsewhere, could actually lift Preston above the Villans. PNE actually had a pretty decent run to begin the season, and were thought to be right in the thick of the top of the table in the early days of the season. With a goal differential of +5, The Lily-whites are doing things in the league that not a lot of people would have suspected in the run up to the season. Although not one of the toughest opponents Aston Villa will see in the Championship this season in terms of squad strength, there are a few facts and titbits that Villa supporters may not want to be reminded of.

For instance, Steve Bruce has never won at Deepdale as a manager. He lost once while managing Hull City, and twice as manager of Birmingham City. There probably isn’t much stock to put into such a hardwired statistic, but I’m sure the matter is in the back of Bruce’s’ head, and he will be making damn sure he doesn’t let this bad mark continue. It is also worth noting that Aston Villa failed to defeat PNE on both occasions last year, albeit in both contests Villa had different managers and to be frank, a mostly different starting eleven. If Villa are to put a stop to PNE giving them a hard time, there is no better time than a late game on a Wednesday in October.

Another talking point among supporters is the eerie fact that Aston Villa have only won one of their last 15 away games in the month of October. Personally, I had to do some deep digging to make sure this claim was correct and to my surprise, it was. It is almost an uncanny truth the longer one thinks about it. But, with the recent strong form of Villa and the injuries that Preston are suffering from, these titbits are looking like they are soon to be forgotten in the annals of Villa past.

As far as Prestons’ injury woes, they have it as bad as any other team maybe in the whole of England. With PNE captain Paul Huntingdon out of the match through suspension, the team must carry on without Huntingdon, Greg Cunningham,  Ben Davies, Tom Clarke and Tommy Spurr. All aforementioned players are based in the defensive part of the lineup for Preston, and Huntingdons’ absence only makes selection an ever bigger headache for PNE manager Alex Neil. Preston do have a bit of good news with midfielder Alan Browne back to action after a one-match ban.

On a more positive note for Aston Villa, the Lions are now at 23 points from their first 14 games of the season. While this statistic might not send shock waves through the footballing world, this is Aston Villas’ best start to a season since the 08/09 campaign (24 points in 14 games). Even if Villa are in the Championship presently, that run of games and results must be appreciated among the Villa supporters and loathed by local rivals alike.

The Villans come into the game much healthier than Preston, but that’s not a very hard task these days. Although Jonathan Kodjia is out with an ankle injury, Keinan Davis is sure to replace him as the main striking option in this contest. Mile Jedinak is also on his way back to being able to play a full 90 minutes, and may get the nod from Steve Bruce in this contest after fellow aged midfielder Glenn Whelan had a rough go against Birmingham City, being bloodied in the process. While it is no secret that Whelan is a tough customer, Bruce might be pushing his defensive midfield horse a little too much in asking Whelan to go again. Neil Taylor is finally through with his three-match ban, but Alan Hutton has looked pretty decent at the left-back position. It is hard to tell if we will see the Scottish Cafu, or Taylor get on the starting lineup sheet for this game. Henri Lansbury and Jack Grealish featured for the Villa U23s to regain overall health and sharpness, and both looked pretty good in the 5-0 drubbing against Newcastle that saw Young Lion Callum O’Hare notch a hat trick.

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