Match Preview | Preston North End vs. City
City climbed to seventh in the Sky Bet Championship following Sunday’s resounding 2-0 victory over the then-league leaders, Leeds United.
Next up is a trip to the side that sits immediately above them on goal difference only, Preston North End.
It’s a little too early to speak of form after one round of restarted fixtures, though Preston’s 1-1 draw at bottom side Luton Town on Saturday would have likely frustrated Alex Neil and his players. Former Swansea man, Scott Sinclair, had given the Lilywhites a 57th minute advantage, though Callum McManaman registered three minutes from time to salvage a point on the day.
Prior to the cessation of fixtures, Preston had lost three on the bounce against West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Their season has been defined by peaks and troughs, with similar difficult runs in November and December halting any serious ambitions of pushing for a top-two spot with eight games left to play.
As for their run-in, North End host Derby on Tuesday prior to fixtures against Huddersfield Town (A), Sheffield Wednesday (A), Nottingham Forest (H), Brentford (A), Birmingham City (H) and Bristol City (A).
Who to Watch
Following his January move from Celtic, the aforementioned Sinclair’s form had been patchy prior to the break. Preston fans will have been encouraged by his goal-scoring return to play, though, and he’s likely to start again at Deepdale on the weekend. Jamaican midfielder Daniel Johnson has contributed the most in front of goal thus far with 11 strikes to his name, whilst the Lilywhites will look to strikers Tom Barkhuizen (nine goals) and Sean Maguire (four) to help them in their fight for a top-six finish.
Elsewhere, veteran Paul Gallagher has signed an extension until the end of the current season, though club captain Tom Clarke will leave the club this summer after more than 200 appearances. German Patrick Bauer and Academy graduate Ben Davies are now the first choice pairing at centre half.
Ben Pearson, Preston’s midfield maestro, was set to miss the original fixture through injury back in March, though has returned to fitness for North End’s remaining eight games.
In the hot seat
Alex Neil took the Preston hotseat back in July 2017, following the departure of former incumbent, Simon Grayson.
Having enjoyed a 16-year playing career that took in just four clubs (Airdrieonians, Barnsley, Mansfield Town and Hamilton Academical), the Scot began his coaching career at the age of 31 with Hamilton in 2013 and spent a season and a half at New Douglas Park. His promotion-winning impact with the Accies attracted the attention of Championship club Norwich City, and Neil would guide the Canaries to the Premier League via the Play-Offs at the end of his first season in charge. An immediate return to the second tier beckoned for Norwich and after an inauspicious 2016/17 season, Neil was relieved of his duties with a few weeks of the season left to play.
Preston finished seventh at the end of the Scot’s first season in charge, prior to a disappointing 14th place finish last term. A Play-Off berth this summer remains firmly in their sights, as a potential route back to the top flight of English football - somewhere they’ve not been since 1961.