It was another season of consolidation for Preston North End, who continue to establish themselves as a Sky Bet Championship mainstay following their return to the second tier in 2015.
After three consecutive top half finishes, the Lilywhites ended the 2018/19 campaign in 14th but only three points behind 12th place Sheffield Wednesday.
The fixture generator hadn’t been kind to Preston, however, who began the season with recently relegated Stoke City, Norwich City, Derby County, Leeds United, Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa in their opening 11 matches.
Having amassed just six points from those games, Alex Neil’s side were rooted to the foot of the table with only one win to their name – 1-0 at home to Queens Park Rangers to get the campaign underway.
A 3-3 draw with Villa sparked a nine-game unbeaten run in which North End scored four goals on three separate occasions against Wigan Athletic, Brentford and Blackburn Rovers to lift them to 15th.
It was a good return for Preston, who showed that they were capable of beating the teams around them, alleviating any potential fears that they could be embroiled in a fight for survival when the season drew to a close in May.
A disappointing 2-1 loss at Rotherham United on New Year’s Day proved to be the catalyst of another fine spell of form as Neil’s team, boosted by the arrival of Brad Potts from Barnsley, embarked on a 12-game unbeaten streak.
Eight wins and four draws was enough to see the Lilywhites climb to seventh – outside the play-off places on goal difference to Aston Villa. High-flying Norwich and Middlesbrough were put to the sword, while QPR and Millwall had also been confidently dispatched with ease as North End made an unlikely assault on the top six.
But an untimely international break disrupted momentum at Deepdale and, following the resumption of domestic football, Preston lost four consecutive games. Three were against sides above them in the table, but the damage had been done and the Lancashire outfit toppled to 12th and any scant hopes of a fairytale promotion bid were over.
However, in Neil, the Lilywhites have a dynamic, young manager with experience at winning promotion from this division, having guided Norwich to the Premier League – via the play-offs – in 2015.
The 37-year-old former Reds midfielder could look to utilise the loan market once more with exciting fledgling talent from the top flight, as both Brandon Barker and Lukas Nmecha played their part during temporary spells at Deepdale from Manchester City.
There have been four draws in the last five meetings between Barnsley and Preston, with the last three at Oakwell ending in a stalemate. Our most recent win against North End was back in September 2016 as goals from Sam Winnall and Adam Armstrong secured a priceless victory in Lancashire.