Preston North End and Norwich City meet in what promises to be a close encounter between a home side fighting for promotion to the Premier League and a visiting club battling to stay in that very division as they meet in the FA Cup Third Round.
But with such league objectives taking priority, the outcome of this fixture could be determined by the sheer desire of the individuals selected to impress their respective managers.
Alex Neil faces his former club as they encounter a familiar position to the period of his stewardship. The now Preston manager took Norwich to the Premier League in 2015 but the Canaries dropped straight back down into the Championship...a very probable outcome this time around with Norwich sitting seven points adrift of safety with just three wins from 21 fixtures.
Neil was given his marching orders in March 2017, blaming a lack of recruitment for his club’s demise. Such a strategy appears to be the Norwich way in the modern era but fans are left bemoaning Daniel Farke’s fortunes two-and-a-half years on as he struggles to cope with a shoestring budget.
Ironically, neither club appears to have really progressed or regressed during that period. Preston remain a side hovering just outside the playoff places but lacking the quality and nous to break into the top six. Norwich continue to be a club with the ability to be competitive in the Championship but unable to crack the Premier League formula.
Cup success is rare
Form is a real issue for both sides. After a flying start to the campaign, Preston are without a win in four and have registered just two victories in the last ten. But they remain just two points off the top six.
Meanwhile, Norwich can count themselves somewhat unlucky to have only drawn against Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace - don’t mention VAR. It totals a run of eight games without a victory.
When you consider that Preston have only beaten one top-flight side in their last 16 FA Cup matches you could be forgiven for suggesting that Norwich would be favourites going into this fixture - but the Canaries have not won in their last ten FA Cup matches.
Preston are expected to make changes for this meeting but more through form rather than fitness levels so could possess a side closer to their strongest eleven than their visitors.
In contrast, Farke has already admitted that he is going to lean on his entire squad for Saturday afternoon - hampered by an injury for Teemu Pukki that could see 18-year old Adam Idah lead the line after making his Premier League debut against Palace on New Year’s Day.
Whilst a win would be more of a ‘nice to have’ for either side, victory could just propel one club into an improved spell of form, vital for their overall ambitions come May. A replay would fathom an unwanted extra 90 minutes, at least, of football.