Mike Holden on the Football League: North End can gatecrash the Cottage

Alex Neil can get Preston back on track with a positive result at Craven Cottage
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Preston stuttered in their last outing against Sunderland but they've hardly put a foot wrong this season and could revel in the challenge of frustrating much-fancied Fulham...

"Norwich, since their debacle at the New Den, haven't been behind at any point in their last seven matches but Hull will test their new-found defensive resolve to the limits if their attacking fluidity and link-up play is anything like it was last time out."

Fulham v Preston
Saturday 15:00

The October international break has become a significant landmark in the Championship promotion race over the past few seasons, the moment when the phoney war ends and the real battle commences. From this point onward, the genuine contenders get their act together and the early pacesetters who have been playing above themselves begin to fall away.

By that rationale, you might assume that this game will play out as a routine home win but the next few weeks present Alex Neil with an opportunity to make it abundantly clear to all and sundry that his Preston side aren't going away. In the next four matches, they play three of the top four in the outright market, two of them away.

If North End emerge from this cluster of matches still occupying a play-off berth, they simply have to be taken seriously. They've already avoided defeat at Middlesbrough (0-0) and Leeds (0-0), while leaders Cardiff were put to the sword (3-0) at Deepdale a month ago, which means they won't play any of the top six in the betting from early November until after Christmas.

That might be over-simplifying their schedule a tad. They did fail to beat Sunderland (2-2) in their last outing, while other points have been dropped at home to Barnsley (1-1) and Millwall (0-0). But it's no small point that the international break probably came at an ideal time for them, whereas Fulham were just beginning to find their stride with successive away wins at Nottingham Forest (3-1) and QPR (2-1).

Preston are high intensity, a young team stacked with humble players who are technically-sound and pride themselves on running further and working harder than the opposition, particularly without the ball. Their edge comes from Neil's astute tactical mind and his ability to fashion custom-made game plans with the help of a meticulous video analysis department.

Fulham might be the most fluid team in the division but fluidity is the operative word behind their ability to turn scintillating performances into results. If Preston can disrupt their rhythm, the same way that Norwich (1-1), Sheffield Wednesday (0-1), Cardiff (1-1) and Middlesbrough (1-1) already have on visits to Craven Cottage this term, then there's value in the [3.0] available on them in the 'draw no bet' market.

Recommended Bet:
1pt Preston to beat Fulham (draw no bet) at [3.0]

Norwich v Hull
Saturday 15:00

Norwich have crept back into top-six contention after a sloppy start to the season, going seven matches unbeaten and picking up 14 points from the last available 18. But their performance data hasn't improved to such an extent that they should be odds-on for the visit of a markedly more adventurous Hull side - their shot ratio has merely increased from 48 per cent to 49.

The Canaries have stepped up their defensive game since the 4-0 hiding at Millwall, with German boss Daniel Farke shuffling his defensive pack, doubling the number of holding midfielders by introducing compatriot Tom Trybull alongside Alex Tettey in a 4-2-3-1 and upsetting opposition managers with his spoiling tactics whenever they find themselves ahead.

The emphasis now is almost entirely on what Norwich do without the ball because they press the opposition frenziedly whenever they lose possession but there's a distinct lack movement ahead of them whenever they do get it back. And the upshot hasn't been much in the way of goalmouth entertainment.

It's a set-up clearly better suited to playing on the road - as subsequent victories at Sheffield United (1-0), Middlesbrough (1-0) and Reading (2-1) would testify - but the Norfolk outfit have created very little on their own turf, going 266 minutes without a goal at Carrow Road, a run that stretches across visits from Birmingham (1-0), Burton (0-0) and Bristol City (0-0).

Hull have had their ups and downs under Leonid Slutsky but their shot data is a couple of percentage points higher and improving, while their link-up play and finishing in the 6-1 win over Birmingham a fortnight ago suggests they could be sensational once everything falls into place.

The Tigers had taken only five points from eight league outings prior to that but the international break might have benefited Slutsky more than most other managers considering how stretched he was in pre-season before the arrival of eight new faces after the season began.

Norwich, since their debacle at the New Den, haven't been behind at any point in their last seven matches but Hull will test their new-found defensive resolve to the limits if their attacking fluidity and link-up play is anything like it was last time out. Take the 'draw no bet' option on the Tigers as well, in their case at [2.88] on the Sportsbook.

Recommended Bet:
1pt Hull to beat Norwich (draw no bet) at [2.88]

Mike Holden Profit/Loss 2017-18

Staked: 31 pts
Returned: 19.38 pts
P/L: -11.62 pts

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