Preston North End (A) | Schumacher's Preview
The fact that Argyle have taken one point from two away games this season tells nothing like the full story of the Pilgrims’ start to the campaign on the road.
A 0-0 draw at Watford was followed by a 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City, but both performances were packed with energy, spirit and no little quality.
At Vicarage Road, an open game somehow finishing goalless, and then Argyle showed class to command the game at a Birmingham side who have started the season really well. An injury-time goal gave Blues the win, and ultimately Argyle had nothing to show for their foray to the Second City.
For Argyle manager Steven Schumacher, the next task is taking those strong performances and converting them into as many points as possible. His team are not very far away, and the boss says they are working on those small margins to make it count, as they prepare to head to fledgling Sky Bet Championship leaders Preston North End.
“The last performance against Birmingham, we played really well,” he said. “We were disappointed not to win that game; to come away with no points was a huge blow.
“It's just that getting that balance right. We want to try to play good football. be on the front foot and be expansive, but also recognise the fact that sometimes a point away from home is a good result.
“We're going into Saturday with that same mentality. We also know that we're going up against the top of the league team who are really hard to play against. Getting a result will be great.
“We need to be clinical in both boxes, defend for the whole game, not lose any concentration and any chances that we get, try and take them.”
In the opposing dugout at Deepdale will be former Argyle manager Ryan Lowe. It was Lowe who brought Schumacher to Plymouth, to be assistant manager, and then when Lowe departed for Preston, it was Schumacher who succeeded him.
The pair remain great friends, but will have to put that on hold for a few hours this Saturday. Schumacher, naturally, has kept an eye on what his good pal has been up to since swapping Devon for Lancashire. He will have seen Preston finish a commendable 12th last season, six points outside the play-off positions, and now get off to a flying start in 2023/24.
PNE drew their first league game, then have won all four since, taking them to the top of the table at this early stage.
Naturally, the history between the two managers has come to the fore, but Schumacher is keen to keep the focus on the two teams on the back when the action begins.
He said: “I know Ryan is standing there next to me, but I'm not playing against Ryan. It's Argyle against Preston, not Ryan versus Schuey.
“It's going to be good to see him. It's going to be good to go up against him, to see how we get on, pit our wits against each other. Whatever happens, we'll still be mates come the end of it.
“We know the challenge ahead of us. It's going to be a really good game. It's going to be a good atmosphere.
“They've been really good. I remember back to the start of last season, following them and, and their results, they were really strong defensively, they didn't concede many goals. They drew so many games, so they were really hard to beat.
“This season, they've had a bit more of a goal threat. They've been a bit more clinical with the chances that they've got - and they find themselves top of the league. They've still only conceded three goals in the division. They're obviously there for a reason.
“I hope it's exciting. I hope it's a good game of football.
“Going up against one of your mates, I'm desperate to win, as will he be desperate to win, but I've taken all that aside. We've just got to try and focus on the job and that's what I'll be trying to do.”
Two players unlikely to be involved in Saturday’s game are goalkeeper Michael Cooper and forward Mustapha Bundu. The former has been out injured since February, the latter a Deadline Day signing that has had to navigate some red tape to take his place in the squad.
Both, though, have appeared on the training ground this week, to the delight of their manager and team-mates.
“Getting Coops back on the pitch has been the biggest positive this week,” sad Schumacher. “To have him back involved in training, getting up to full speed with the rest of the players was great. Everyone was made up on Monday when he came down and played the small-sided games.
“It was brilliant to have him back involved and he showed us quality as you would expect.
“To get Mustapha in the building eventually is really good. It took a bit of time for his work permits to come through and getting him into the country, but he's here.
“He trained with the group on Thursday morning. He didn't do a full session, so he probably won't be available for the weekend. There's no rush with him. We need to make sure he's up to speed physically.”