Opposition View: Ben Wignall
Targeting an immediate return to winning ways on home soil, Luton Town welcome Preston North End to Kenilworth Road tonight.
ORH spoke to Football League World journalist and Preston North End fan Ben Wignall to get a Lilywhites view ahead of this evening's clash.
Tell us a bit about you and your Lilywhites’ supporting background…
Having had the choice out of North End and Tottenham (my Dad’s team), PNE were pretty much the undisputed choice when my Mum’s side of the family got involved!
I went on my first game in 1998 as a two-year-old - an FA Cup match against Ford United of Barkingside in London, who now no longer exist, and in the years after I was a regular at Deepdale with my Grandad and Auntie.
I’ve had a season ticket at Deepdale for as long as I can remember and it’s only this current season that has been the first time since I was a toddler that I haven’t had one - the press box is much comfier and they feed me well but I do miss sitting in my regular seat of 22 years sometimes…
After an indifferent start, it seems as if Preston are improving as the season develops. How do you feel the season has gone so far?
The first half of the season saw some of the worst football I’d seen in a while as a PNE fan. We lacked creativity and a direction, and the way that Frankie McAvoy had us playing meant that key players such as Ben Whiteman and Daniel Johnson in midfield weren’t effective whatsoever.
It’s only since Ryan Lowe took charge in December where we’ve seen a real philosophy developed and the football is now being played the ‘right way’.
Those midfielders that struggled to get into the game under McAvoy are now flourishing, we look a lot more solid in defence and I now go into matches thinking that we are going to score multiple goals as opposed to fearing that we will be defeated.
It’s not all perfect - there’s been multiple games recently where we perhaps should have won and have drawn 0-0 instead, but Lowe needs to be backed in the summer with the players he wants and then I think we will fully flourish.
Ryan Lowe took over from Frankie McAvoy last December, having done an excellent job in the South West with Plymouth Argyle and, despite his short time in role so far is starting to get his ideas across. What do the Preston fanbase make of Lowe’s short tenure to date?
It’s chalk and cheese with Lowe compared to the relationship with McAvoy.
Some thought that because of his run as caretaker manager following Alex Neil’s departure that McAvoy was definitely the right man for the job, whereas on the flip side of things, others believed that those wins in dead rubber games meant nothing and he would be ‘found out’ in the end.
The latter proved to be correct, with some of the football served up under his tenure being really bad - but under Lowe it’s different.
PNE now attack with purpose, with Daniel Johnson and Cameron Archer being the main players to thrive in this particular system.
Lowe has also brought the feel-good factor back to Deepdale - fans who were staying away under McAvoy have now returned and the positivity is there for all to see and his relationship with supporters is one that is mutually shared.
From the outside, it seems like Preston are a side that relies on the collective, rather than the individual brilliance of a few players. Is there anyone you would highlight as the “Ones to Watch” for PNE?
That’s probably an accurate description of things - our squad is built on a budget and for most of our recent time in the Championship we have had a bottom six or eight budget.
The main spells of creativity come through Daniel Johnson, who on his day is one of the best midfielders in the Championship and he really does make us tick.
Cameron Archer as well has come in from Aston Villa and has shown that he’s not only a goalscorer, but for a small striker he has strength in abundance and has really had a positive impact.
Don’t write off Emil Riis either - he scored just twice last year in his debut season but is on 17 goals in all competitions in 2021-22.
The Dane sometimes looks like he’s never seen a football in his life but when he doesn’t have time to think about things he can produce special moments. Luton fans will know all about him because of his incredible strike in the reverse fixture earlier in the season!
Preston got the better of Luton earlier this season, with a strong first half showing enough to settle the contest. Since then, the Hatters have developed into a side fighting for a playoff place. What do you make of Luton’s progress in recent seasons?
Luton have to get a lot of credit for their progression.
Like us at Deepdale, the Hatters are a team ran on a budget and there’s been some smart recruitment at Kenilworth Road.
I was envious in the summer when the likes of Carlos Mendes Gomes and Allan Campbell arrived at the club, and even last January when he was a Walsall player, I was clamouring for PNE to sign Elijah Adebayo for a relatively cheap fee - that deal has proven to be a masterstroke for Luton.
And I think it would really upset the apple cart if Nathan Jones were to guide the club through the play-offs and into the Premier League - could you imagine Cristiano Ronaldo’s reaction to seeing the away end at Kenilworth Road?
Time for some predictions - who do you think will (i) get automatic promotion, (ii) make the playoffs, and (iii) get relegated?
I think Fulham, barring a major collapse, have their place in next season’s Premier League secured, so I’ll go for Bournemouth to go up with them - they have enough games in hand I feel to secure that second spot even though I haven’t been wildly impressed by them this season.
As for the play-offs - sorry Luton fans but I think you may just fall short. I’ve done my own calculations and I think that the top four will be Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest.
Then again, I’m not known for being a prolific tipster…
As for relegation, I think Barnsley may genuinely pull off a great escape dragging Reading into the bottom three along with Derby and Peterborough in the final weeks of the season.
Finally, give us your score prediction for Wednesday’s game…
I’m going to go with a conservative 1-1.
We aren’t losing many games recently but have drawn far too many and I can see that trend continuing as our season peters out.
(Featured image: Copyright Gareth Owen/Luton Town Football Club)