Football League Expert & Columnist
Lancashire hot spots
Peter Beagrie explains why Blackpool v Preston is about more than just bragging rights.
Last Updated: 29/11/09 2:29pm
When people talk about derby matches they tend to think of the big-city derbies, so it's easy to forget the importance of a game like Blackpool v Preston.
Sky Sports sent me to a couple of these fixtures when I first started out on Soccer Saturday and I was impressed by how intense it was and how vociferous the fans were.
We can expect a fantastic atmosphere on Monday night - and the fact that a Preston win would take them level on points with Blackpool makes it even more important. There's bragging rights and league position at stake in this one.
The two sides come into it with different form. Blackpool were on a five-game unbeaten run before last Saturday's defeat at Reading, while Preston have only one league win in their last eight.
Blackpool's home record is up there with the best in the Championship. They are one of three teams - alongside Newcastle and Bristol City - who are unbeaten at home and their record of P8 W6 D2 L0 F17 A3 is absolutely brilliant. Nobody has conceded fewer than them at home.
That's what their play-off challenge has been built on. They do not have a squad littered with big names, but Ian Holloway is perhaps the perfect man for that job.
He's as mad as a box of fish, but one thing he can do better than most is to generate team spirit and camaraderie. The fact Blackpool are in touch with the play-off picture is proof of that.
He has created a blueprint that demands hard work and organisation - plus he has made a few astute signings, not least Jason Euell. I remember being on the Soccer Saturday panel alongside Ian once and he was waxing lyrical about Euell; he obviously remembered that when he took the Blackpool job.
Blackpool's biggest player right now is Charlie Adam, who was a snip at around £500,000. I expected a few teams from the higher end of the Championship and even the Premier League to be sniffing around him.
He's been a revelation with five goals in 15 league games. He can play on the wing, but he's renowned as a driving force in midfield who can pick a pass and score goals.
It will be interesting to see if they can hold onto him in the transfer window. I know Bolton, among others, are keeping an eye on him but if Blackpool can hold onto him it will enhance their chances of gatecrashing the play-offs.
I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see Blackpool doing so well on a small budget. In a division that rewards consistency, they are proof that organisation and discipline can take you a long way.
They shouldn't be embarrassed to be rubbing shoulders with some of the bigger teams. Unfashionable clubs like Bradford (when I was there), Burnley, Hull and Stoke have all got out of this division - and can provide inspiration for Holloway and his players.
Meanwhile, expectation levels have risen at Preston in recent years and they seem to be paying the price... literally.
Their operating losses have been reported as £5.49million this year, although that doesn't include the fee of around £4.5million they should receive from Middlesbrough for Sean St Ledger.
They started the season well, with Neil Mellor in particular scoring a few goals, but they've failed to score in their last two league games and that could become a problem for Alan Irvine's side the longer it goes on.
In last Monday's live game, they matched a very strong Newcastle side in most departments apart from one - hitting the back of the net.
Michael Tonge has been brought in from Stoke to try and do the same job that Adam had been doing for Blackpool. He can get on the ball, he can score goals from midfield and hopefully he can ignite Preston's push for a play-off place.
For the last few years it has been 'nearly, but not quite' for Preston and like Blackpool, I think they must aim for that bottom play-off spot. All these clubs want to do is get in the top six and a win on Monday would be a big boost for either side.
It's a very difficult game to call. Blackpool's home form suggests the advantage lies with them, but anything can happen when you throw the derby atmosphere and the TV cameras into the mix. The recent South Wales derby proved how form goes out the window; Swansea were struggling for goals - and then went and scored three against Cardiff!
Preston have a good structure and one of the Championship's best goalkeepers in Andy Lonergan so it will be tough for Blackpool to break them down. The longer Preston stay in the game, the more likely they are to nick something, but an early goal for Blackpool could add to the negativity surrounding Preston.
This is a league fixture, but will have a cup atmosphere and as a neutral I hope we get a 5-5 draw.Preston and Blackpool are inextricably linked and supporters of both sides will be working together in offices and factories next week. If there's a wide grin on your face on Tuesday morning, it'll be pretty obvious which team you support!
Peter answers your questions...
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TOP OF THE STOPS
Neil Warnock recently said Speroni was the best goalkeeper in the division. Personally I think it's Radek Cerny at QPR. I'd be interested to know what other people think? Andrew.
PETER SAYS: Those two guys would be up there on their day, particularly Speroni who has produced some incredible individual performances. He was a consistent shot-stopper last year, but wasn't keen on coming off his line. That improved at the back end of last season and I remember how good he was against Sheffield United when they threw everything at him. He can perform in pressurised situations behind a seemingly ever-changing Crystal Palace back four and is proving to be something of a hero at Selhurst Park.
As I mentioned above, Lonergan of Preston is up there - I particularly admire his distribution - and also Scott Carson at West Brom. I also like Keiren Westwood at Coventry, who joined from Carlisle and is a tremendous keeper who's been linked with Everton. I'd maybe pick Lonergan as the pick of the bunch but there are some tremendous keepers in this division.
CHERRY GOOD SHOW
Why do Bournemouth never get a mention? We have been having an amazing season and it's about time Eddie Howe got some credit. Up the Cherries! Ian C.
PETER SAYS: I think Eddie Howe has had several mentions; we haven't been able to speak highly enough of him on out Football League preview shows. As the youngest manager in the league, he performed a miracle in his first season under the constraints of a points deduction and he could be forgiven for walking around with a wide, smug grin on his face. I've no doubt the Bournemouth chairman has had numerous phone calls asking about Eddie's availability too. They are averaging two points per game and that usually means automatic promotion if you keep it up all season. His stock is rising and so are Bournemouth's chances of promotion.
However, when I think of Bournemouth I always think of Steve Fletcher, who has played more than 600 games for the club and has seen all the good and bad times in his long career. I'll be 44 years young on Saturday but I'm sure Steve must be older than me; I'm sure he's either had Botox or else he irons his face to look so good! He's also got a perma-tan to rival Phil Brown and I'm sure he won't mind me saying that because he does have a sense of humour (you only need to look at his wardrobe for proof of that). He's a gym fanatic too. He used to get the kit lady to take in the sleeves on his shirt to make sure his muscles were popping out! Apparently it intimidates opponents.
It's nice to talk about Bournemouth, but we should also mention Rotherham because they were besieged with similar problems and made a miraculous escape. I'm sure fans of both clubs would unite in saying they deserve their revival and their places near the top of League Two. It just goes what can be achieved if players, management and fans all pull together in adversity.