Blackburn v Preston: rejuvenated Lilywhites

Barkhuizen starts brightly –

These teams met at Deepdale last season, when Blackburn won 2-1 in Paul Lambert’s first game in charge. A Jordan Rhodes strike and an own goal from Jordan Pickford – who was otherwise outstanding for North End that year – set up a solid if uninspiring second half of the season.

This year, Tony Mowbray has had a similarly stabilizing impact at perhaps a more crucial time. A more disciplined-looking Rovers have amassed nine points from five games, only four goals conceded in that time. Those results look more impressive when one considers that Mowbray has not been able to bring new players in.

The existing ones, he has got fighting once again with players putting their bodies on the line to save their Championship status. Charlie Mulgrew has been a leader at centre-back and perhaps Rovers missed him at the 2-2 draw with Norwich. The back-line that day had an average age of 22 and some naïve defending late on from Derrick Williams saw them throw away a lead with a man advantage.

Preston played like they had a man advantage in their 3-0 win over Reading last week, such was the energy of the side. Previously one might associate Simon Grayson sides with being experienced and organized but lacking in pace. The exit of Joe Garner as well as injuries or reduced game time for other older heads in midfield and attack however, has benefited the team. It has paved way for quicker, more dynamic forwards such as Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson and most recently Tom Barkhuizen.

The latter was instrumental last week, combining superbly with Daryl Horgan, who this January swapped the Lilywhites of Dundalk for the Lilywhites of Preston. Barkhuizen scored twice and for the second goal, he instigated a breakaway during which Horgan made up 50 yards to get on the end of his cross and finish at the second attempt. Those runs didn’t just come from natural ability and athleticism, they also showed a burning desire that was perhaps stimulated by playing for previous clubs who were battling against the odds. That is what Preston must do in their remaining nine games to bridge the six point gap to the top six.

By contrast, Blackburn would settle for their current position come the season’s end, a 2-2 draw at Fulham seeing them climb out of the relegation zone. Lucas Joao came off the bench to score a last-gasp leveller in that match, having netted twice as a substitute in another 2-2 draw at Norwich three days previously.

Though Sam Gallagher is out with a tight hamstring, Sheffield Wednesday loanee Joao adds to an already reasonable attack. Industrious forward Danny Graham has scored 11 goals this term while Marvin Emnes has his moments, including a stunning winner against Wigan and a fine individual assist for the former against Manchester United in the FA Cup.

Blackburn have scored more goals, 44, than eight of the bottom ten as well as big spending top half sides, Derby and Aston Villa. The last few weeks have seen both teams make positive forward strides.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-1
Betting tip: both teams to score at 4/5