Every game is massive at this stage of the season. And Plymouth Argyle’s upcoming fixture against Preston North End is arguably their biggest of the season to date.

The stakes could not be clearer. Just three points separate Argyle from the dreaded drop zone and, despite a battling display away at Blackburn Rovers last weekend, head coach Ian Foster’s job is still on the line with just nine games left of the campaign. Add in the fact that ex-Argyle manager Ryan Lowe will be in the opposing dugout, and you suddenly have all the ingredients for a potentially ferocious occasion.

That this game comes just before an international break also feels significant. If Foster manages to beat a former Argyle gaffer, he and his side will be able to ride the wave of positivity for the best part of a fortnight at least. Fail to do so, and the board may see an ideal opportunity to bed in a new manager for the final eight games, particularly with Neil Warnock now on the market.

What can we expect? Well, when assessing Preston, I’ve found them to be one of the more unpredictable sides in the Championship. I think there’s every chance Argyle can wipe their opponents out, but it’s also very possible that the Greens could be taken to the cleaners by a team who still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. Any result could prove decisive.

Style of play

For anyone who knows Ryan Lowe, much of Preston’s style won’t come as a shock. It’s virtually certain they’ll line up with a back three, with the likely candidates being Liam Lindsay, Jordan Storey and Aaron Hughes. Lindsay is the tallest of the three, and I imagine he’ll be trusted to play the ‘Dan Scarr role’ in the centre of defence.

The rest of the team is a little trickier to guess. On occasion, Preston have lined up with the 3-1-4-2 that will be very familiar to Argyle fans. That would involve an aggressive midfield of Alan Browne and Mads Frokjaer-Jensen, with Ben Whiteman hoovering up behind. Recently though, they’ve opted to line up with a 3-4-1-2, bringing in Ali McCann to sit alongside Whiteman. He’s not exactly squeaky clean, with more bookings than anyone else in the side, but remains a good option.

There is an extra midfield complication for Lowe on this occasion, with Whiteman likely to miss out. He was forced off with an ankle injury against Stoke City last weekend, and hasn’t been able to brush off the knock. As a result, I’d expect to see Frokjaer-Jensen, Browne and McCann all start, with various systems possible.

Preston’s injury issues may also cause Lowe some concerns at wing back. They’ll be desperate for Liam Millar to start on the left, but with Brad Potts out and Browne probably required in midfield, he may have to switch sides. That could see Robbie Brady brought in on the left, though he too has missed out in recent weeks and only returned from the bench against Stoke. Fortunately for Lowe, the choice up front is much more straightforward – Will Keane and Emil Riis have both started the last nine.

In all honesty, Preston are a boring side to watch, no matter what Lowe’s rhetoric may indicate. Creating chances isn’t their forte, and they opt for long passes more than we’ve come to expect at this level. To be clear, that consists mainly of passes being sprayed into space rather than aiming for a target man. Indeed, we saw similar during the second half of Lowe’s first season at Argyle with his ‘territorial’ approach; the tactic of playing the ball into spaces for Ryan Hardie to chase is still effective today.

The teams differ off the ball. Whilst Argyle try to settle back into their shape and make themselves difficult to play around, Preston deploy an energetic press. They’ve made the sixth-highest number of tackles in the Championship this season, and only two sides have seen their players dribbled past more often. It paints a picture of a team who are desperate to win the ball back quickly – their tackle success may not be perfect, but they’ll put you under plenty of pressure.

Ultimately, Lowe’s style is something that should be familiar to the Argyle hierarchy. But knowing what’s coming at you is one thing; sweeping it aside is quite another.


Across this season, we’ve spoken in depth about how clinical Argyle are going forward. Some of those stats have regressed in recent weeks (the trip to Blackburn saw a dreadful display of finishing), but the Greens still remain strong. Preston, though, may be even more clinical. In fact, I honestly believe that their clinical nature is the main thing keeping Preston’s dwindling play-off hopes alive.

Lowe’s side haven’t taken a great number of shots this season, but the ones they have taken tend to be effective. Their shot conversion rate this season is 13%, a figure only topped by league leaders Leicester City. And when they do get in, they rarely make a mess. Preston have missed 18 big chances this season. That may seem like a lot, but it’s comfortably the lowest number in the Championship. For comparison, Argyle have missed 37, and even that figure is just about average.

Keane in particular scrubs up well, and is probably the best example of Preston’s ruthlessness. He’s their top league goalscorer this season with 12, and he’s scored them with a shot accuracy rate of 55%. No player in the league has scored more goals with a higher shot accuracy, and only Jamie Vardy has scored more goals with a higher shot conversion.

It’s not just up front where Preston can be dangerous. In transition, there are a few figures that stick out considerably. Aerial duels is an easy place to start. Despite working on it in recent weeks, Argyle’s aerial duel success is still a somewhat inadequate 46%. Meanwhile, only Millwall have won more aerial duels this season than Preston, and their success rate of 52% is more than acceptable. Scarr may be out of favour, but this is surely the sort of match where you find room in the side for Ashley Phillips and Darko Gyabi.

Whilst Preston’s aerial duel numbers catch the eye, I’ve been even more impressed by their interceptions. Put simply, nobody does it better. Preston’s total of 428 interceptions this season is the highest in the Championship, and 90 more than Argyle have managed. Storey is key, making more interceptions (68) thus far than anybody else in the league.

It’s a crucial element of Preston’s game. I’ve mentioned how creating chances from regular play isn’t their main strength, but they can be dangerous on the counter. Interceptions play a crucial role, allowing them to transition quickly, and put themselves on the front foot at a moment’s notice. With that in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that only three teams (Argyle included) have scored more goals on the counter attack this season than Preston.

Finally, I just want to touch on two players in Preston’s ranks who have particularly impressed me all season, at both ends of the field.

Lindsay is the first. Earlier I mentioned he plays the Scarr role in the middle of Preston’s defence, and he excels. He’s won 146 aerial duels this season, putting him in the top ten across the league, and doing so with a success rate of 73% is remarkable. He’s also made more clearances than any other player (190), and only Argyle’s Lewis Gibson has blocked more shots across the campaign.

Lindsay has added tidy short passing to his game since joining Preston from Stoke in 2021, but simple defending remains his bread and butter. There are few superior. Much like when Cameron Burgess visited with Ipswich Town two weeks ago, Argyle will have to find a way of getting around Lindsay, because playing through him simply isn’t an option. With both Storey and Hughes also capable of mopping up on the flanks, Preston can be a frightful defensive unit.

Millar is the other player I need to mention. If Lindsay is the Dan Scarr in Ryan Lowe’s ranks, Millar is the Danny Mayor, albeit from a wider starting position. He’s completed more dribbles than any other Preston player, and his total of 63 ranks him in the top ten across the Championship. Unlike Mayor (harsh? I’ll let you decide), Millar also adds goals to his game. Many of you may remember him scoring on his Preston debut in the reverse fixture at Deepdale.


There are threats across the field, but if Argyle can nullify Millar and find a way around Lindsay, they’ll do themselves plenty of favours.


I’ve briefly mentioned it a couple of times now, but it’s time to tackle this issue for real. Just how bad are Preston at creating chances?

Well, the numbers are damning. Preston have taken 341 shots this season, the second-lowest number in the division with only rock-bottom Rotherham United taking fewer. And it’s not because Preston are waiting to get into the most dangerous positions before get clean shots away – they also rank 23rd in the league for their xG of 31.91, again with only Rotherham posting a lower figure.

That’s a problem. A well-polished attack can mask the issue, and win you some games with clinical finishing and a stroke of good fortune. But across a whole season you’d expect at least some reversion to the mean. One has to ask themselves how far Lowe can really take Preston without his side creating chances on a regular basis.

For this game in particular, the fact Michael Cooper has finally dusted off his gloves is a huge bonus. Argyle are facing a side who are unlikely to have many big chances across the 90 minutes, but will trust themselves to take those chances when they present themselves. In having a goalkeeper who can be trusted to make important saves, Argyle could just find themselves winning the game’s big moments, making their efforts when on the front foot that much more threatening.

Away from chance creation, I’m encouraged by the fact that Preston don’t seem particularly strong in ground duels. Both Middlesbrough and Ipswich were similar in that they had the beating of Argyle in the air, but looked poor on the ground. Preston could well be similar, with their ground duel success of 48% the fourth-worst figure in the division.

This is an area where Argyle should look to capitalise. Whatever your thoughts on the differences between Foster and Steven Schumacher (I know there are plenty of them), ground duels are an area where Argyle have undoubtedly improved under their new head coach. It’s a real shame Bali Mumba is unavailable for this one on that basis, but again, this feels like a game tailor-made for Gyabi.

I do just want to touch on Preston’s style of play, which feels as though it may be flawed. As I mentioned, Preston do like to spray the ball long into the channels. They’ve attempted the second-highest number of long passes in the league, and only two teams (Rotherham and Huddersfield Town) play a higher number of their passes long. Does it work? Rarely.

Preston have the third-worst long pass success rate in the league at 36%, which suggests a level of thinking in Preston’s coaching that’s as clear as mud. Sure, these things can be inversely proportional. The teams who attempt fewer long passes are likely to have a better success rate, since they’ll only be playing them when it is the most obvious option. But is it really a tactic worth persevering with if it means you’re regularly giving the ball away? I’ll leave you to your own judgments.

Finally, I’ve been struck by the timing of Preston’s goals for and against, and specifically how they’re impacted as the clock winds down.

Along with Stoke, Preston are one of only two sides in the Championship not to have scored a goal in second half stoppage time. Interestingly, they haven’t scored in first half stoppage time either, but that is less relevant to the point. Conversely, Preston have conceded six goals in second half stoppage time across the season, with no team in the league conceding more.

There are plenty of theories behind their record. Is there an issue with mentality? Does their active press mean their energy levels are depleted too soon? Who knows? Whatever the case, Argyle need to take advantage. We’ve already seen a couple of late winners at Home Park this season, and one here would be the most welcome of the lot.


All week, I’ve felt like a draw is the most likely outcome. I’m now wavering. Whilst scouring their squad, I’ve begun to get the impression that Preston could be the ideal opponents for Argyle at this juncture. Their style of play could suit the Greens, and they’re notoriously streaky – the fact they come into this game on the back of a home defeat could be significant.

Sadly, football doesn’t always allow us to have nice things. I do retain some confidence that Preston will struggle to complete a clean sweep over Argyle this season though, so I’m going to stick with my original thoughts. 1-1, with Argyle scoring first, and the big questions continuing to be brushed under the carpet across the international break.