The Thursday Preview: Preston Vs Cardiff
It may be that he was trying to placate his ambitious Chairman Derek Shaw, but Darren Ferguson’s bold words of ten days ago are looking a little misplaced now. “Anyone who goes on a run now will move up the table quickly,” he had said ahead of two consecutive away matches at Derby and Newcastle. He was right – less than 15 points separated the play-offs from the relegation places after his team’s derby stalemate against Blackpool – but two morale-sapping defeats followed, severely jeopardising this famous son’s hopes of a top six finish.
Any relegation prattle is perhaps a little knee-jerk: the Lilywhites squad is replete with experience and is sprinkled with a touch of quality from back-to-front. That said, a nervous twitch or two might do North End good, focusing the squad on reaching the 55 point mark as quickly as possible. Should they reach that with time to spare then there might be potential for a late surge, but for the time being their priority ought to be on emerging from the pack of clubs who have one eye on the play-offs and the other on the clubs behind their shoulders.
Although the top six was well out of sight, Luton were in a similar position three seasons ago before losing all but two of their final 13 games to join Southend and Leeds in a trip to League One, so none of the teams up to Watford in 13th should rest safe. Peterborough, Plymouth and a Warnock-less Palace appear to be good bets for the drop, but there’s at least of glimmer for all three and the trio could yet drag an unsuspecting QPR or Bristol City into the fray.
North End have a big squad, so go into Saturday’s match against Cardiff with enough options to suggest they can make a go of it. Manchester United loanees Danny Wellbeck and Matthew James should start along with Paul Coutts and Tommy Williams, two of the players Ferguson has so far managed to nab from his former employers Peterbrough. Other than those new arrivals, a good deal of survivors from the Lilywhites’ 6-0 drubbing of the Bluebirds at the end of last season should figure.
Somehow, I managed to skirt the real issues at QPR in my preview of their game last Saturday, but it would be difficult to repeat that trick in discussing Cardiff’s current affairs. Portsmouth’s unrelenting plight has to an extent taken the heat off the Welshmen, but a Digger snippet in yesterday’s Guardian painted a particularly damning picture of the way they have gone about their business. Devious, murky or incompetent? Call it how you like, but the Cardiff board have riled the fanbase. The club is faced with a tide of debts, and the acrimony surrounding the 10,000 season tickets that were sold under a false promise have left the Bluebirds in disarray. Yesterday’s AGM was packed with talking points.
Cardiff have been playing with fire for years now, and it remains to be seen whether their profligacy will finally catch up with them. In what is a moderately poor division, the Bluebirds ought to possess enough to achieve a play-off finish, but the bad feeling that currently lingers amongst the supporters bodes poorly. I can see it spilling onto the pitch in the short-term: Cardiff to drop points at Deepdale.