Proud Preston – and rightly so

At the time of writing Preston North End sit in second place in The Championship so, for the fourth time in the last seven games, Charlton prepare to take on a team in the automatic promotion places.

Leeds and WBA were top when beaten and held to a draw respectively. Second place Swansea narrowly beat us. Furthermore, the points were shared at fifth place Fulham. In fact, we have only played one bottom half club - Derby -  in the last two months and we easily saw them off.

Preston came up to The Championship in 2015 under Simon Grayson and achieved mid table security in their first two seasons. When Alex Neil was appointed manager in 2017 it was hoped that he would repeat the first-season promotion success he had managed at Hamilton and Norwich but PNE missed out on the play-offs by two points. Last year they slipped back into mid table but they have made an impressive start this season - albeit largely as a result of their home form of six wins and two draws. They have so far only won once away from home (at Birmingham) and have been beaten at Swansea, Reading and Millwall.

Their last visit to The Valley was in October 2015 during the final days of Guy Luzon's management. Their 3-0 win came in the middle of the demoralising eleven game winless run which would lead to Luzon's departure and the arrival of Karel Fraeye. Preston's scorers that day were Paul Gallagher (2) and Daniel Johnson and, four years on, they are both likely to be in the visitor's starting line up on Sunday. It seems that much of Preston's recent success is the result of the sort of stability and continuity which we used to pride ourselves on. Their squad includes five players with over 200 appearances for the club and a further four with over 100. Contrast that with Chris Solly (307) followed by Naby Sarr (93) and Jason Pearce (92).

This gradual approach is reflected in their transfer dealings this year. Having banked £7m in the summer from the sale of Callum Robertson to Sheffield United they signed just three new players. Patrick Bauer and David Nugent were free and Tom Baylis (£2m from Coventry) is clearly seen as one for the future as he is yet to make his debut. As scorer of one of the most memorable goals in Charlton history we are sure that Bauer will be given a warm welcome (as will Declan Rudd) but we expect him to be leaving with as many points at Krystian Bielik did.

Preston are the top goal scorers (with 27) and have the best goal difference (+11) but how will their defence deal with the third most prolific goal scorer in The Championship? A goal every 110 minutes puts Macauley Bonne just two minutes per goal behind second place Lyle Taylor (108). If Nahki Wells (105) fails to score at Leeds on Saturday they will both leap frog him. Mitrovic, you ask? 11 goals, but 115 minutes each.

Karlan Grant? Nowhere near, at 157.