Every club has a prankster, someone willing to push their luck, raise a smile and see where the boundaries lie with the new boy. At Preston North End it is the anonymous person who revealed the club's intended formation against Chelsea in this lunchtime's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Deepdale.
In the Portakabin that doubles up as a press suite at Preston North End's training ground, the whiteboard on the wall had Chelsea in a 4-5-1 set-up while the home side, according to the artist involved, were likely to take a more negative approach.
"We'll struggle to get a goal there," the new manager, Darren Ferguson, grinned as he looked at the revolutionary 9-0-1 formation he is apparently ready to unveil to the footballing world. Joking with journalists and the surname Ferguson do not necessarily go hand in hand, but it speaks volumes about the confidence Darren has in the club he joined as manager a fortnight ago, a believe that will manifest itself in a line-up many times more attacking than the one on the wall during his media briefing.
It is the only way he knows and it is the style that helped him get Peterborough United promoted in consecutive seasons until football's astonishing immunity to the notion of loyalty displayed itself again in November when he was sacked.
Yet as Brian Laws at Burnley and Alan Irvine – his Preston predecessor – at Sheffield Wednesday can attest, sometimes these things happen for a reason and Ferguson is now determined to make his mark at Deepdale, starting this afternoon.
"It's a simple fact and an old cliché that if we are at our maximum and they are not then we stand a chance and that is what we have to hope happens on Saturday," he said. "It's a big game for us, obviously. Chelsea can't play well every game and there have been occasions this season when we have seen that and we have to set up for a great performance. If we can manage to get a shock it would lift everybody at the club. It is a sell out and one we are looking forward to."
Sunderland were no doubt looking forward to their game against Chelsea last week as well. At least until Chelsea put seven past them in an afternoon at Stamford Bridge that underlined just how good Carlo Ancelotti's side are.
Logic dictates that Preston should struggle even more than Steve Bruce's side to contain them because they are in the league below, yet North End's new manager is determined to remain unaffected by their potential – even if he has not dared show his team the DVD of that encounter.
"I can watch it but I think it is a bit worthless showing it to the players," he said. "Chelsea are Chelsea. Whether it was 7-2 or they drew, they are still one of the best in Europe. It just so happens that in the week before they play us they played Sunderland off the pitch. But I don't think that should make a difference about what we have ahead."
What Ferguson "has ahead" is, by his own admittance, three and a half years to get Preston to the Premier League and he is hoping that this afternoon his side can show some top-flight potential. They will need to improve on their only performance under Ferguson so far, a 4-2 defeat at Bristol City last Saturday where they were 2-0 down after 12 minutes, but the manager is confident of future success. "It's a good football club and has a good fanbase," he said. " If we could get to the Premier League then it could really take off. If we got the right result with that then I'm sure we could kick on."Reuse content