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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Looking Forward to Preston?

I can only call Tuesday a stunning disappointment and after the second-half display there's only the realisation that there's definitely better teams than us in the fizzies. Meanwhile, it's perhaps a point gained and we continue to stagger hopefully towards the Play-off lottery.
Still six points behind Watford in 2nd and with Stoke and West Brom also to overtake, perhaps we should remember that we still have to visit two of our closest rivals in Ipswich and Plymouth and of our 5 away games we have to visit three teams that have some of the best home records in the fizzies, Ipswich, Plymouth and Burnley with only 6 home defeats between them in a total of 54 games. Perhaps we should concentrate on retaining our 5th place after all.
Preston, meanwhile, are down in 20th, on 40 points, with only 4 teams below them. Preston's home form is good with 8 wins - the same as the Addicks - and with only one defeat more than we've had and Charlton are the only team in the top 10 to have taken away all three points from Deepdale. But its their away form that has dragged them down to the relegation area. With only 3 away wins and 3 draws, they have suffered more defeats on the road than anybody else in the fizzies, a total of 12, and only Ipswich and Barnsley have picked up fewer points away from home.
And a further bad sign for a team at the lower end of the table, they don't seem to be very good at fighting. Compared to Bristol City, as we sadly experienced, who have fought back and scored 14 points on the 17 occasions that they've gone behind, poor old Preston, after conceding first 16 times have only won a meagre 4 points in those games, a feat equalled by Leicester City.
But the good news for Preston fans is that they are slowly improving and with the three points on Tuesday, have now dragged themselves out of the bottom three. With more points than the Addicks over the last 8 games, 13 to 12, Pardew should take note that at the same time as we were drawing with Bristol, Preston were gaining their third away win of the season by winning at Leicester by the only goal in the last minute.
As for the Addicks, nothing less than 3 points will do on Saturday, and while there have been many disparaging comments about the acquisition of yet another forward, perhaps its worth noting that the Addicks for all our firepower only have one player in the top goal-scoring 20 players in the fizzies and he, Gray, scored all of his 13 goals this season at Burnley, and hasn't now scored for over three months. By contrast, West Brom have 3 players in that top twenty, and Stoke, Watford and Ipswich all have two.
Perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about that what with the highest scoring team by far, West Brom with 71, are still only 4th while Bristol City, outscored by 11 other teams, are 3 points clear at the top. But while we have 2 midfielders in ZiZi and Ambrose both finding the net 9 times, I can't help but remember that in our last promotion years, Super Clive got 23 in 1998 ( and then another three in the Final) and then Andy Hunt going one better and getting 24 in 2000.
So the arrival of Leroy Lita, 14 goals last season but only one in this, is Pardew latest attempt to force the issue. Perhaps those with a long memory can recall the arrival of striker Jim Melrose for the last 11 games of the successful promotion-winning 1985-86 season. He only got 5 goals in those 11 games but they included a face-saving equaliser at Sainburys against Millwall after they had gone 3-0 up in the first 19 minutes.
And it does seem that we need to do something about the accuracy of our finishing. Only 4 teams, West Brom with 71, Stoke 59, Watford 57 and Ipswich 53 have scored more goals than we have with our 52, but Stoke and Watford have managed it with roughly 60 less shots on target than we have. And with the distinct possibility that we'll have to face at least one of these teams in the Play-Offs its perhaps vital that we find an answer now before its too late.
So we can only hope that Pardew, with his contacts at Reading, has this time got himself someone who we can rely upon to hit the back of the net.

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