Things have taken something of a turn for the worse for Preston North End in their push for promotion in recent weeks, with three straight defeats putting their place in the top-six under serious threat.
Alex Neil’s side are now just one point clear of seventh-placed Bristol City in the Championship table, and are facing something of a challenge when it comes to coping with the absence of one of their key players this season.
Having picked up an injury in their 2-0 defeat at West Brom towards the end of February, holding midfielder Ben Pearson has missed Preston’s last two games, losses away at Fulham and at home to QPR.
That injury is expected to keep Pearson out until at least the end of March, meaning he is set to miss Saturday’s game away at Luton, and subsequent home matches with Cardiff and Derby.
So how much of an impact could Pearson’s absence have on Preston in those matches?
Here, we compare Preston’s form with and without the 25-year-old in their side so far this season, in order to find out:
With Pearson having featured in all but five of Preston’s league games throughout the campaign so far, it is hard to fully assess the extent of the impact his absence will have on the side, although it does seem there is room for optimism for them going forward without their midfield lynchpin.
Having picked up three wins and suffered just two defeats from the five games they have played without Pearson, Preston’s point per game ratio is in fact higher when the 25-year-old does not make an appearance for Neil’s men, than it is when the midfielder does feature.
Indeed, given Preston actually average 0.29 more goals per game without Pearson than with him, it could be argued that they are offered more attacking freedom to exploit when the holding midfielder is unavailable for them.
However, while the absence of Pearson may free them up somewhat going forward, it also appears as though it hinders them to a similar extent defensively.
So far this season, Preston have conceded an average of 0.22 goals more per game in matches when Pearson does not feature, seemingly highlighting the loss of the defensive protection the midfielder offers when he is in the side.
Indeed, with Preston’s average possession per game dropping by more than 3% when Pearson is out of the side, it also seems as though North End struggle to control games in quite the same way when they are forced to play without their catalyst in the centre of the park.
It should also be noted that two of those wins Preston enjoyed without Pearson came against sides struggling in the Championship this season, in the shape of Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town, while the two defeats were at the hands of sides further up the standings in promotion-chasing Fulham and mid-table QPR.
As a result, it seems there is plenty of reasons for Preston to be both concerned and optimistic when it comes to dealing with Pearson’s absence, and how well they manage to do that feels like it will be a big indicator of their promotion credentials this season.