Preston North End travel to Stoke City on Wednesday night looking to build on their 2-1 win at Lancashire rivals Wigan Athletic on Saturday and cement their place in the Championship’s top six.
Alex Neil’s side head into the game on the back of a five match unbeaten run in the Championship, which has included three wins from their last four matches, and that has seen the Lilywhites firmly establish themselves back amongst the contenders for the play-off places.
That has seen Preston get back on track from a run of four matches without a win in the league over the festive period, which had threatened to derail their hopes of mounting a successful push for the top six this season, and they will be aiming to keep their upward momentum going at Stoke.
Preston have been one of the best performing sides on home soil throughout the campaign so far, but they have recently shown signs of translating some of that form onto their travels, with Neil’s side having gone unbeaten in their last five away league matches since a 2-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers.
The Lilywhites proved to be too strong for Stoke when the two sides met at Deepdale earlier in the opening month of the season, with Preston running out comfortable 3-1 winners, and a similar result would see them keep themselves inside the play-off places.
That though, could prove to be tricky given the recent improvements made by Michael O’Neill at Stoke, with the Potters’ 3-1 win against Charlton Athletic on Saturday continuing their momentum as they look to move away from the relegation places.
QUIZ: Can you name the club these 14 ex-Preston North End players are playing for now?
Here then, we take a look at the XI that Neil should select against Stoke on Wednesday night…
Neil will not be needing to make too many changes to the side that secured a deserved victory against Wigan on Saturday, and the Preston manager will be highly likely to stick with the same 4-2-3-1 formation that has served his side well throughout the campaign.
Declan Rudd is firmly established as the club’s number one goalkeeper, and the keeper will have been disappointed not to have managed a clean sheet in their win at Wigan, with Preston switching off for a moment at the back to allow the home side to pull a goal back.
Darnell Fisher should keep his place in the side down the right-hand side of Preston’s defence and the full-back will be needing to remain switched on defensively against James McClean, while after coming back into the side against Wigan from injury Andrew Hughes should start down the left.
At the heart of Preston’s defence both Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies have been in strong form over the last few matches, and the Lilywhites will be needing the pair to deliver another good performance against Stoke, who will likely put the Lilywhites under pressure at times.
At the base of midfield both Ben Pearson and Alan Browne delivered excellent performances in the win at Wigan, with the pair both offering protection to the back four when required and the ability to get forwards and influence Preston’s play going forwards.
Neil could elect to bring Josh Harrop back into the side down the left-hand side of Preston’s attack, after dropping the attacker to the bench against Wigan, while Scott Sinclair should keep his place in the side down the right after helping to provide an extra attacking spark since his move from Celtic.
Daniel Johnson is arguably Preston’s most important attacking player, and the attacking midfielder should again start in the number ten position where he will be looking to build on the winning goal he scored at Wigan last time out, while Tom Barkhuizen could move back into the centre forward position in place of Sean Maguire.