On Saturday there will be just nine points separating home side Preston North End and visitors Charlton Athletic, yet the aims for both sides offer an insight into the competitive nature of Championship football.
Earlier in the season Preston became the ‘dark horse’ frontrunner; a label constantly applied to a Championship side that makes surprising strides towards Premier League football. However, as form faded, they have dropped out of the play-off picture and into the misery of mid-table.
As for Charlton, the Addicks also offered the potential for a remarkable season as they started the campaign with a six-game unbeaten spell. Lee Bowyer’s side failed to defy the odds for much longer, now lingering dangerously above the relegation zone, with survival the sole target for the South-East London side.
As mentioned, neither side is pulling up trees in the form standings.
Last time out PNE recorded a laborious 1-1 draw away to Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers, leaving the Lilywhites sitting tenth in the table just two points outside the play-off picture.
Their proximity to the top six is surprising given their current form. The draw at Ewood Park saw Preston end a run of three straight defeats, including an FA Cup loss, yet they still remain without a win in their last five league outings.
North End had previously relied on an impressive home record at Deepdale, but two 2-0 home losses at the hands of Reading and Middlesbrough perhaps demonstrate a potential collapse of the leagues best home side.
Charlton however sit fifteenth in the home table and nineteenth on the road- averaging out to their overall position of nineteenth in the table. The early season form which saw them grab them headlines has disappeared, yet the Addicks are still offering against the odds performances.
Last weekend The Valley hosted West Bromwich Albion, a side that sat second placed and were justified favourites to be playing Premier League football next season. Therefore, when Lee Bowyer’s side came from behind twice to earn a 2-2 draw, the plaudits rightly went to the home side.
Whilst the result marked the third game without a win, it demonstrated the kind of performance Charlton will need to remain in the division.
Since beating Leeds United in late September, a result which saw the recently promoted side pick up their fifth win in their opening nine league games, Charlton have won just two of their following eighteen games, dropping from sixth in the table to nineteenth.
However, Charlton remain five points above the drop zone and with performances like that against West Brom, there is hope they will grind out survival.
What to Expect
Despite failing to find the net in their last two Deepdale outings, Preston are the second top scorers at home this season with twenty-nine goals, a drastic difference to their away tally of just eight.
This coupled with Charlton recording just one away clean sheet, that coming back in August, indicates the potential for goals for the home side.
Their last clean sheet on the road was also the last victory for the Addicks away from the Valley- another sign pointing towards a positive outcome for North End.
For the neutral, the game may not present an aesthetically pleasing spectacle. Preston’s average of eighty-eight long balls per game is the most in the league, a clear intention to move the ball away from their own half.
This is reinforced by ‘action zone’ statistics. Preston have the second most percentage of play in the opposition third; which is bad news for Charlton who have the second most percentage of play in their own third, highlighting another indication for Preston dominance.
No outfield player has played more minutes than Ben Pearson for Preston. The defensive midfielder is the linchpin of a defiant Preston side and with two tackles and over one interception per game, Pearson allows his side to attack freely with defensive security.
Charlton’s equivalent of Person is veteran midfielder Darren Pratley. The 34-year-old brings much needed experience to a Charlton side fighting relegation. With over two interceptions, tackles, and clearances per game, Pratley breaks up opposition attacks and will be the difference between Charlton coping with Preston’s potent attack or not.