Preston North End vs Birmingham City preview: Can Lilywhites keep slim play-off hopes alive?
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 15: Sean Maguire of Preston North End battles for possession with Pontus Jansson of Brentford during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Preston North End at Griffin Park on July 15, 2020 in Brentford, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Preston North End will be left feeling deflated after their play-off hopes took a nosedive as they lost 1-0 to third place Brentford on Wednesday and will look to end their season in winning ways, despite it looking near impossible for them to break into the top six.

Birmingham City will also be left feeling sorry for themselves after drawing 1-1 at home to Charlton, a game which Scott Hogan will aim to forget pretty quickly as his penalty was initially saved by Dillon Phillips, the strikers second effort from the rebound was hit well over the bar. 

Key Battles

Lukas Jutkiewicz and Hogan will be looking to rekindle a partnership similar to that of last seasons partnership of Jutkiewicz and Che Adams - despite Hogan's penalty mishap against Charlton and generally poor form since the Championships return - on their day, Jutkiewicz and Hogan have both proven to be a handful for Championship defenses. 

Preston defender Patrick Bauer has impressed throughout the season, averaging a 7.04 rating (via WhoScored.com), the defender will be looking to continue his impressive form and keep the Birmingham front two subdued for the duration of the 90 minutes.

Previous Meetings

The last time the two sides met, Preston left with all three points as a Sean Maguire goal proved to be the difference between the two sides back in September. The Irishman was quick to react as Paul Gallagher's free-kick struck the post.  

In their previous four encounters, Preston have won two and drawn one, with their only recent loss coming in December of 2018 as the Blues asserted their dominance in a 3-0 win at home. 

Team News

For the hosts, Preston are expected to be without Ben Davies again as he misses another game through injury. Paul Huntington will also be pushing for a starting position after serving a three match ban.

As for the Blues, Jude Bellingham has reportedly traveled to Germany to complete a medical ahead of a move to Borussia Dortmund for a reported £20m, the teenager is therefore a doubt to feature for this game. 

Predicted Line-ups

Preston XI: Rudd; Rafferty, Bauer, Storey, Hughes; Pearson, Johnson; Potts, Maguire, Sinclair; Stockley (4-2-3-1).

Birmingham XI: Camp; Colin, Roberts, Dean, Pedersen; Crowley, Sunjic, Gardner, Bela; Jutkiewicz, Hogan (4-4-2).

Managers Thoughts

Preston manager Alex Neil told club media that he was surprised that Pep Clotet left Blues when he did, and insisted that their meeting will prove to be quite difficult considering their change in systems:

Every team has had to change over this period, because the games are so close together.

”They have changed system – even within games – against Stoke they changed from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, so it is going to be a tough game.

“It was a strange scenario with them announcing the manager is going to be leaving; as a coach – at that stage – you would want to see the season out, because you don’t want to disrupt the players or the club and leave it in limbo.

“I thought, from the outside, it was a strange decision, but they then deemed that Pep would split earlier that was anticipated and I am not sure what has happened, but for us, none of that is really important, we have to focus on what we need to do and we want to win this game, hope that fixtures go our way and then we can take it to the last match.”

Blues caretaker manager Steve Spooner spoke on his sides chances of survival, as the Blues currently sit 19th on 50 points:

"I wouldn’t want to say it’s safety because we are focused on winning two more games as simple as that. Of course, you want to get as safe as you can as early as you can, but we want to go to Preston and show that level of performance again and we won’t be far away with that."

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