Championship football returns to Deepdale on Saturday for the first time since the end of April where the Whites were held to a 1-1 draw against Rotherham.
The encounter will see Alex Neil take charge of his first competitive fixture as North End boss but the task certainly will not be easy as promotion chasers Sheffield Wednesday come to town.
Carlos Carvalhal’s side narrowly missed out on promotion at the end of last season when they were defeated in the play-off semi-final by the eventual winners Huddersfield Town.
Ahead of this Saturday’s match, we spoke to a supporter of both sides to see what they had to say…
What did you make of the appointment of Alex Neil?
I was happy with it given the options there were and the inconvenience of the process. Hopefully he’s learnt valuable lessons from his spell at Norwich and can help us push on this season. He’s a young manager which fits in with the way the club is looking to progress.
What have you made of the new style of play implemented into the side?
I’m very happy with the new style. It’s very good to watch and it seems that it’s getting the most out of some players judging by what we’ve seen during pre-season. I am slightly wary of the defensive aspect but I think with time that’ll improve.
Which signing has excited you most?
I’m 50/50 between Josh Harrop and Seani Maguire at the moment. After watching the Burnley game, I became torn because Maguire was very impressive. His movement and his ability to stretch the game worked perfectly. Harrop meanwhile also has great movement, and once he’s back to full match fitness, he’ll be an important player this season. I think United will regret losing him.
If you had to pick the starting XI for Saturday’s match, who would you go for?
I’d stick with the 4-2-3-1 that’s been used in friendlies. I’d give Maxwell the nod in net, with Fisher, Huntington, Boyle and Cunningham in defence. I’ve picked Fisher because I don’t think Vermijl is defensive enough to play against a strong attacking side like Wednesday. I’d stick Pearson and Browne in the centre with Johnson (Harrop needs a few games to get back to full fitness I think) just ahead. Then I’d have Barkhuizen and Horgan on the wings with Maguire up top. There are still doubts over Hugill’s future currently, so we’ll see if he plays a part.
Can we have a score prediction for Saturday’s game?
I think we’ll be in for a very tough game. Wednesday are a tough team to break down, and their attacking quality speaks for itself. I don’t want to be pessimistic but I’m thinking it’ll be 2-2. Given our new attacking style, I think we’ll be able to score a few.
And finally, what do you think we can achieve this season?
I think it all depends on what happens between now and the end of the transfer window. We’re most definitely short at the back, and we need at least one centre half if not two. I don’t think another striker and holding midfielder would go amiss either, regardless of whether Hugill leaves. If we can get some more business done then I’m quietly optimistic. I don’t think that finishing in the top half is out of the question, but we all want to get to the all important play-offs.
Ahead of the new season, what is the mood like in the Sheffield Wednesday camp?
The mood in the camp is a bit hard to work out at the moment. Gary Hooper has come out and said that with all the options we have, he might end up on the wing. He’s also said that the strikers need to do better in front of goal, and with the quality we have he’s certainly got a point. Midfielder Barry Bannan has been saying that it would be nice to have a couple more signings but only if they are going to strengthen the starting XI. Seems to me that some of the players are still a bit down after our play-off defeat last season.
Are you happy with the business your club has done? Is it ready to challenge for promotion?
Not at all happy. We have needed cover for central defence for at least 18 months now with the injury issues and lack of players in that area but this still hasn’t been addressed by the manager. I think with a couple of players in at the back we could be contenders for the top two if we can get Hooper firing again and play to the strengths of strikers Jordan Rhodes and Sam Winnall.
What are your hopes and realistic ambitions for the upcoming season?
I think top six is a must: the bare minimum. But a top two finish certainly isn’t out of reach.
If you had to pick one player for us to look out for at the weekend, who would it be?
Keep an eye out for Rhodes and Hooper as if they both start, that is likely to be the preferred partnership for the season and it will be interesting to see how they start to link up. I was at the Rangers game on Sunday and they just weren’t quite clicking.
And last but not least, what is your prediction for Saturday’s game?
I think Wednesday will win 2-1 or 3-1 but with all the recent changes at PNE, who knows how the game will go. A lot of players trying to impress a new manager.
That’s the end of our first edition of Fans Feature for the new season. Many thanks to both supporters for taking part and also to you for reading this article.
If you are a Preston fan and wish to take part in our future editions then please feel free to get in touch!
And finally if you wish to read any more of our articles you can take a look here.