Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponents Stoke City.
Neil Warnock and Alex Neil will be aware of the upcoming International break and will be planning their side around this halt to the league as it presents an opportunity for tiring players to push through the ‘last stretch’ before the majority of the sides can rest.
Middlesbrough may have won at the weekend but the side is still some way behind the closest play-off position as an 8 point gap separates the Teessiders from 6th placed Barnsley.
Meanwhile Preston has found itself in 15th place, all but secure from the relegation zone but the playoffs are now out of reach that means that the side has little to play for between now and the end of the season. This could be liberating for PNE as they are able to express themselves without fear of the consequences. Alternatively, this could manifest in a lack of motivation within the squad that could fuse with a slump in form.
One To Watch: Alan Browne
Hot Prospect: Sepp Van Den Berg
Manager: Alex Neil
Preston's Season So Far:
Thirteen wins, 8 draws and 15 defeats have brought Preston to their current position, sat in 15th place, with a 12 point gap between themselves and the relegation zone and 17 points away from the playoffs. It is unlikely that they will be dragged into a relegation battle or that they will be fighting for the playoffs resulting in an unexciting end to the season for the Preston fans.
Despite their relative security, they have conceded 46 goals, joint 19th in the leagues ranking, while their distinctly average goal haul of 39 goals puts them joint 13th in the league. It is clear to see where the side has struggled most with Declan Rudd and Daniel Iverso having to pick the ball out of the next an alarming number of times. Yet these numbers will be inflated by the switching between goalkeepers with Iverson making 13 appearances and Rudd making 22.
All the same there is an indication that this is a side that Middlesbrough may do well against if they can ask questions of the oppositions defence and goalkeeper.
Form: D W L D L
The Lilywhites have had a mixed run of form in recent weeks as they bagged 5 points from their last 5 games. These points came with a win and two draws against QPR (0-0), Huddersfield (3-0) and Bournemouth (1-1) respectively. The most impressive of these results undoubtedly the draw against playoff chasing Bournemouth as the opposition had a superior squad and so subduing and take a point away from this game is very impressive indeed.
Meanwhile defeats to Millwall and, more concerning, lowly Wycombe indicate display a troubling inconsistency at Preston which they will be hoping to overcome by next season. In the meantime, it presents an image of a vulnerable side that Middlesbrough would be the favourites to succeed against.
A more detailed view of this run of fixtures point to a few consistencies that Middlesbrough should be aware of when going into this game. Preston may have managed to find the net in all but two of their latest games and managed to score a goal per game on average and a large portion of these goals came in the win against Huddersfield Town but the side generally struggles to find the net more than once during a game showing that Middlesbrough would be in relative security if they managed to score twice against Preston. On the other hand, the sides defence has been relatively solid over this stint of games as the side has conceded just 0.8 goals per game over this recent period which is an improvement on their season average of 1.3 goals per game. The utilisation of a settled Sepp Van Den Berg may have been a key component in the recent upturn in defensive form, that is particularly impressive after they recently conceded 4 to Cardiff City.
Top Goalscorer: Scott Sinclair (9)
Most Assists: Ryan Ledson (4)
Most Yellow Cards: Alan Browne (6)
Most Red Cards: Joseph Rafferty, Tom Barkhuizen (1)