The Thursday Preview: Hull Vs Preston
While my thoughts tend to veer towards League One and beyond these days, I can’t deny looking on at Preston’s steady decline with a grim fascination.
North End’s decline really does remind me of my own side’s downfall last season. For all of the following, read ‘check’: increasingly modest crowds; an excessive and unsustainable wage bill being shelled out on a largely lifeless squad; instability at managerial level; a failure to prop up losses with a significant player sale or two in a buyers’ market; and a raft of desperate, ill-conceived loan signings (recent captures include Eddie Johnson, Leon Clarke and Nathan Ellington…).
The Lilywhites are just one in a long line of clubs to be going through the financial motions, but it seems that they’re now on an unstoppable course for the third tier. Chucking further money on to the fire doesn’t appear to be an option given the eye-watering figures mentioned in relation to the Lancashire club in recent times, so it looks as though North End will get an opportunity to start letting some bad blood at the end of this season come their perhaps inevitable bottom three finish.
Whether they can survive the drop in revenue that would accompany relegation is another question (it’s surely only a matter of time before Preston are Swiss Rambled). The board would have hoped that the appointment of Phil Brown, otherwise known as that “tangerine Mackem twat” to borrow a moniker quoted in this month’s WSC, would have breathed some passion into bellies, but results have been poor since his arrival. Decent back-to-back 1-1 draws were recorded against Leicester and Middlesbrough first off, but the last two games have yielded neither a point nor even a single goal, North End going down by two and four to Barnsley and Bristol City respectively.
Eighteen games remain to close the ten point gap between themselves and Palace in 21st but, according to Football League blogger, Preston fan and friend of TTU Craig Laycock, “a poor squad, deflated morale and a seemingly inevitable slide to League One” indicate that the Lilywhites supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Until the two previewed clubs met at Deepdale in October, Hull were also looking decidedly shaky. But a 2-0 away win triggered a run that has lifted City away from the relegation zone and now has Humbersiders talking of the play-offs.
My fellow blogger Lanterne Rouge has seen the Tigers twice in recent weeks. He may be accused of having been a little sniffy about the contracts being dished out at the Sunshine Band stadium, so the news that big earners Kamil Zayatte, Ian Ashbee and Jimmy Bullard have all moved on (albeit temporarily in the latter’s case) will no doubt hearten our resident Royal.
Incoming have been James Chester, warmly reviewed by that same man, Corry Evans, Aaron McLean and Matty Fryatt. That City’s new strike force managed to score each of their team’s five goals at Scunthorpe last week is a reflection of the sense of revitalisation within this, a squad that had very much seen better days just six months ago.
Odds are that Hull’s starting line-up won’t change from last week, although returns for Liam Rosenior and James Harper shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out, particularly in the central midfielder’s case given the possible need to match experience with experience against returning son, Ashbee.
Bookies will have this one down as a banker, and therein lies the biggest threat to City this weekend. Having thrashed their local rivals on their own patch a week ago, Hull now face a side at their lowest ebb, so home supporters might well get twitchy if things don’t work out from the start. That’s why I think that this could be a potential turning point for Preston. Phil Brown and Brian Horton will have invested their all into getting a result, and with Ashbee, Wayne Brown and Leon Cort completing the ‘they played for both’ connection, this one’s a tough call. Without doubt a game to keep an eye on.