Preston North End Is Bringing Back The Dead-Ball Era To English Football

The year is 1974. It's mid-February, and after months of intense wear, the pitch at Preston North End's Deepdale Stadium is nothing more than a mud pit. The players slog through ankle-deep sludge as they labor in vain to hoof the water-logged leather sphere up the pitch.

The aim is not to score, rather it's to prevent the opponent from finding the back of the net. It's a cynical way of thinking that has long plagued the English game, thus preventing its tactical advancement.

The Lilywhites are amid their fifth 0-0 draw in six contests — a match against Cardiff City that will feature just two attempts on target (and none from Preston) — and are presiding over a scoreless streak that will reach 645 league minutes. It's an impressive unbeaten run, but it's the type of dire football that has fans contemplating their life decisions.

It would be reasonable to expect such a goalless stretch in the 50s, 60s, or 70s — an era when a groundskeeper's main job was to use a giant roller to flatten the pitch. In modern times? Such a spell is incomprehensible. 

Yet through eight league matches in 2022, EFL Championship Side Preston North End has scored two goals while conceding just once. The Lilywhites did not allow a goal until their eighth match of the season, combining five scoreless draws with a pair of 1-0 victories before succumbing to a 1-0 defeat against Birmingham City.

Just how extreme is Preston's start to the season? Every other team in the  Championship has experienced a minimum of 12 goals in its matches to begin the campaign. 

Sheffield United, the next-stoutest defensive team in the Championship thus far, has conceded five times. At the other end of the pitch, even lowly Cardiff City, languishing in 22nd place, has found the back of the net four times. 

Unsurprisingly, expected goals maintains Preston's unusual run will not continue. Based on xG, Preston should have scored 9.4 goals and allowed 9.6. Each of the side's last two matches has featured a goal, which also suggests more scoring is in Preston's future, but the club's dedication this season to ensure low-scoring matches has helped us gain a greater appreciation for the nil-nil draw and the perfect imperfection of goalless football.

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