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OPPOSITION VIEW: PNE


In what we hope isn’t our last Opposition View of the season we spoke with Ben Baldwin ahead today’s must-win game. We discussed everything from Preston’s season to where we can get a pre match pint.


How has the season gone for PNE?

It has been much like the previous few seasons. Started poor, got a bit better as the campaign went on, flirted with the play-offs for a while before eventually falling away. We’ve a solid bunch of honest hard-working players, but until we invest the money needed to bring in real quality for this level, this is where we are at.


Are you disappointed that your season has kind of petered out, and you've got nothing to play for on the final day?

Disappointed yes, but that’s not to say I expected much different. I said previous to the season starting, and particularly after the transfer window shut, that we just don’t have enough quality. The last few weeks have proved that, when it comes to the crunch and we play the “proper” teams pushing for the top six - we get beat. We knew our previous four games against Millwall, Swansea, Blackburn and then Sheffield United would define our season. We came out of that run with a single point. Those clubs have more ambitious owners, spend more money than us and just generally have better structure, from youth development to recruitment, and these things show on the pitch.


Who's been your best player this season?

Jordan Storey. For me he has been head and shoulders above everyone, which when you consider that one of the managers first actions last January was to essentially bomb him out, is remarkable. Big centre back, throws himself in-front of everything.


Ched Evans is out for the season, he's your top scorer. What happened to him?

He’s been ruled out to have surgery on a ‘serious medical condition’, and it doesn’t sound likely that he’ll play anytime soon. His absence has meant that young striker Tom Cannon has been given an opportunity to become more of the focal point, and he’s grabbed it with both hands scoring 5 in his last 7.


Earlier in the season you spoke positively about manager Ryan Lowe. Is he still "your sort of gaffer"?

Absolutely. My thing with Ryan Lowe, and any other manager we’ve had over the last 10-15 years, is that there’s only so much he can do with the squad and budget he is given. All things considered 11th is overachieving for us, but there is an ingrained expectation at this club that we should be challenging for promotion every year. Lowe isn’t as tactically astute as an Alex Neil or some of our other previous managers but I do get the feeling he’s a good man-manager, and he’s probably got the perfect type of personality to motivate and keep the modern Championship player happy. He’s doing well, but if he’s ever going to be successful with us he needs backing.


What is the biggest weakness of PNE?

The team this season has generally played with a minimal-risk type of philosophy, resulting in a large chunk of our games finishing 0-0 (including the one at the Stadium of Light in October). While this makes us defensively sound, we lack any creativity and quality in the final third. Cannon is in a bit of purple patch and Liam Delap got his first goal for us last week, so there is a bit of hope for us but that is definitely our weak point.


Which Sunderland player worries you the most?

Amad Diallo. He had only just joined the last time we met, and he’d just had a pretty underwhelming loan spell at Rangers, so as talented as he clearly was I didn’t know what to expect from him. But he’s obviously showing his ability now, and why United paid all that money for him. Our defenders tend to struggle with the sort of close-control dribbling that you see from Diallo, so he’s terrifying.


Similarly, which players could SAFC the most damage?

Tom Cannon is in form at the moment, so he will be our main goal threat. He’s just a natural finisher and seems to able to score any type of goal from what we’ve seen so far. If anyone is going to be a problem for you, it’s him.


What's your score prediction? Goalscorers?

Our season is over and Sunderland have got everything to play for, much like at Bramall Lane on Saturday when we got whacked 4-1. I would expect a similar outcome. 1-3. Goalscorers: I like Gelhardt, I remember him coming on for what I think was his debut for Wigan a couple of years ago, and he tore us apart for 20 minutes. Reckon he’ll get two and Diallo with the other. Cannon for North End.


Do you think Sunderland will sneak into the play-offs...

I do. I think Millwall and Blackburn will draw meaning a win at Deepdale will take you into the top six. All the best for it anyway, even if it is at our expense.


Finally, where's the best place for all the travelling Mackems to get a pint in Preston?

The Vic and the Adelphi are the standard away fans pubs (both near the train station), but PNE fans are a generally friendly bunch so the Tellers should alright too. All the best to all the travelling Mackems.


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