The Thursday Preview: Preston Vs Coventry
For someone with such a glowing complexion, Phil Brown is a notoriously difficult man for the neutral to warm to. When a good friend of mine currently living/exiled in Glasgow (the same friend who offered directions to Selhurst Park in this post) suggested we take in a match at a venue somewhere relatively equidistant between us on the West Coast Main Line, however, it came down to a choice between watching Wigan or the club that the former Hull City manager joined in January, Preston North End. Although the prospect of seeing Roberto Martínez’s attractive yet toothless side for the third time this season was not without appeal, what swung the vote for me was the opportunity for a first-ever visit to Deepdale.
Preston approach Saturday’s game against Coventry in what must, indeed can only, be described as the mire. Brown has so far failed in his brief to lift the side he inherited from Darren Ferguson clear of the bottom three. Tuesday night’s trouncing of Scunthorpe was Preston’s first win since Brown arrived and, while it gives the Lilywhites a fillip going into the final ten games of the season, they remain ten points from safety. The lamb on Preston’s badge carries a cross; as the threat of the third tier looms, that lamb’s burden could well be a metaphor for the five top-two finishes in the nascent First Division that the club achieved between 1889 and 1893 so early in their history.
It’s 47 years since Coventry City played outside the top two divisions but, while Preston fans might be envious of their visitors’ points tally, Aidy Boothroyd found out on Monday that his employers certainly weren’t satisfied with it. The Sky Blues dropped to nineteenth on Saturday after losing at home to Hull – the spectre of Phil Brown stalks this article – to make it one win from sixteen league games and the Coventry board reacted accordingly. Boothroyd, lauded as one of the best young managers in the game after getting Watford promoted to the Premier League in 2006 aged only 35, was working in League One just three years later after leaving Vicarage Road and his sacking at Coventry represents another setback to a once promising career. He is still only 40 though.
A draw at play-off chasing Burnley on Tuesday saw Coventry benefit from Scunthorpe’s defeat to Preston – although that result cost Ian Baraclough his job at Glanford Park the following day – with the Sky Blues putting another point between themselves and the relegation zone. Six, maybe seven, points from their final nine games should see Coventry safe. First-team coach Steve Harrison and chief scout Andy Thorn are the men in temporary control following Boothroyd’s exit; whether or not they remain in that position for the rest of the campaign depends on how eager the Coventry board are to appoint the club’s ninth permanent manager since Gordon Strachan’s sacking in 2001. The Sky Blues’ situation is nowhere near as desperate as Preston’s, although should they lose at Deepdale then perhaps the need to accumulate the points needed to see them over the line come May might become pressing enough for the managerial situation to be resolved.
With Preston needing nothing less than a win on Saturday, the club has reacted by reducing ticket prices for adults to £10 in a bid to ensure a good attendance. Obviously, that tactic helps to explain why two neutrals such as my friend and I have chosen to go to the game too. Clubs’ ploy of slashing the entrance fee for one-off events has been a particularly prevalent aspect of my match-going this season, having already allowed me to watch West Ham and Charlton for considerably less than I otherwise could have done. I am not convinced, however, that clubs are going about looking for fresh support in the right way (as my own attendance on Saturday bears out). The pros and cons of promotional deals regarding tickets were debated on the Two Unfortunates only recently, following Exeter’s 3-1 win at the Valley backed by a sizeable away following. It is interesting to note, then, that like the travelling fans who paid the same five pounds as home supporters to watch that day, Coventry are offering “tickets for a tenner” for the Deepdale game too.
I have checked the Football League’s web site to see if clubs are obliged to extend offers open to their own supporters to away fans as well and, although I could not find any evidence that that was the case, it would seem particularly altruistic of host clubs to charge travelling fans the same amount unless League rules told them to. As Preston prepare for what could be more vocal backing from the away end than usual against Coventry, then, a more inventive way to attract people through the turnstiles was witnessed at Bristol Rovers last Saturday. For the game against Huddersfield at the Memorial Ground season ticket holders could bring a friend for free, which seemed like a good way to reward the group of supporters normally short-changed by “tickets for a tenner” schemes and their like. The fact that Rovers lost anyway only proved that attendances alone don’t win football matches. After all, if they did, Newcastle fans would have a lot less to be aggrieved about. Possibly.