As the EFL Championship creeps closer to its end, both Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End are fighting to keep their seasons alive.
While Garry Monk’s squad sit 15th on 52 points, his counterpart Alex Neil has his side occupying 10th spot with 58 points, six points adrift of the play-offs.
The hosts are still in need of points on the board despite being stranded in mid-table as the club is still, with five games of the campaign left, unaware of whether the EFL will decide to deduct points. The court case over the sale of Hillsborough is still ongoing.
The Lilywhites however, are desperately searching for their first victory since the restart. What will be of concern is their lack of defensive stability with only one clean sheet in their last four which came in a scoreless draw with Huddersfield Town.
Defeats against fellow play-off hopefuls Cardiff City and Derby County have left Preston gripping onto the coattails of the top six and anything but a win at Hillsborough on Wednesday night could end their hopes of making the cut.
The Lancashire clubs decline did in fact begin before the enforced break when they lost 2-0 to West Bromwich Albion and Fulham before a 3-1 defeat against Queens Park Rangers.
Similarly, Wednesday are also in a bad run of form and have been since Christmas with only three victories in 2020, without a points deduction Wednesdayites can rest safe in the knowledge that they will be viewing Championship football next term but with the punishment unclear, games such as this against a side only six points better off need to be won.
The Owls had a game of two halves in South Wales on Sunday, they dominated the first half and created several clear-cut chances without capitalising on their creativity and were duly punished by Swansea City in the second half and were left chasing the game.
Wednesday’s architect Barry Bannan and Preston’s midfield nuisance Ben Pearson will be fighting it out in the middle third. Pearson will be making it his duty to disrupt Bannan’s creativity while the Scotsman will be looking for that killer pass to unlock a defence as he so often does. Both have been key members of their respective sides for a number of years now and have earned differing reputations in the middle of the park.
Kieran Lee should be fit after being substituted at half-time against Swansea due to a calf injury. Garry Monk explained this was just a precautionary measure. With Lee’s injury issues over the last three years he needs to be looked after.
Should Lee miss out, Alex Hunt may step into the midfield three alongside Bannan and Massimo Luongo.
The game may also come too soon for Josh Windass who has been side-lined since the resumption of the season with a thigh injury.
It also remains unclear as to whether Tom Lees will feature as he continues to struggle with a hamstring injury.
As for the visitors, Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson will be assessed ahead of the game, whilst Louis Moult remains unavailable through injury.
Head to Head
North End came out the victors at Deepdale back in August when Moses Odubajo gave two penalties away gifting Preston two goals, before Steven Fletcher headed home a consolation goal.
The Owls generally have a good record in this war of the roses encounter, with just three defeats in their last 12 meetings with six wins to their name.
The last time Preston won at Hillsborough was in October 2009 when goals from strike duo Neil Mellor and Jon Parkin were enough to take all three points back over the Pennines despite Michael Gray getting on the scoresheet for Wednesday.
SWFC (3-5-2): Wildsmith, Palmer, Iorfa, Borner, Murphy, Luongo, Lee, Bannan, Haris, Wickham, De Cruz.
PNE (4-2-3-1): Rudd, Rafferty, Bauer, Davies, Hughes, Pearson, Ledson, Potts, Browne, Harrop, Barkhuizen.
View from the dugouts
Ahead of the clash, Monk said to The Examiner Live:
“We need to turn dominant displays into rewards. We need to be ruthless and cut out the mistakes defensively.
"It’s hard, because you want to credit the players for a large part of the four games, but things could and should have been different."
Preston North End midfielder Ryan Ledson said:
”You would take playing poorly and getting three points, we are not far off, we just need someone to get us a goal and if we can do that and get a win, we could get on a roll and then you never know what can happen.
“It has been very fine margins in the games since we have been back. We were brilliant at Luton and they nicked a goal right at the end, so that would have been three points; a free kick did us against Derby and against Huddersfield we should have won, but they are all ifs, buts and maybes and we just have to get ourselves over the line and get three points.”