AFTER the distraction of the FA Cup, West Bromwich Albion will be hoping to extend their five-game unbeaten run when they travel to Preston tonight.
Albion`s position as leaders of the Championship is not threatened by tonight`s round of fixtures (unless they lose and Watford win at Sheffield United by a cricket score, that is) but the need to keep some daylight at the top is clear.
Bristol City`s 1-0 victory over Blackpool at the weekend saw them go level on points with the Baggies, while Watford, despite their inconsistent home form, are still in the mix because of their formidable away record.
Stoke and Crystal Palace have invested heavily during the transfer window and may yet have more signings up their sleeves.
Prior to last night’s 1-0 defeat at Leicester City, Palace had taken 23 points out of 27 since the 1-1 draw with Albion on December 1, while the Potters are unbeaten in their last 12 League games, a run of six wins and six draws which has taken them to fourth place, just four points behind the Baggies.
Preston, despite being firmly clamped in a relegation battle, will be much bouyed by their 4-1 Cup triumph at Premiership strugglers Derby County on Saturday.
Preston manager Alan Irvine said in a press conference yesterday: ‘West Brom are a good team, a good footballing team who play really attractive controlled passing football.
‘It’s the type of football that I like and the type of football that I’d like to think we will be able to play in time.
‘It will be an extremely difficult test for us and they are a team that I would fully expect to be in contention for automatic promotion.’
Preston North End Team News:
Manager Alan Irvine has already hinted at an unchanged line-up for the game, which means Albion will come up against former midfielder Darren Carter. Recent Hawthorns departure Richard Chaplow is unlikely to figure because of a hamstring injury.
Preston North End (from): Lonergan, St Ledger, Mawene, Chilvers, Davidson, Hill, Sedgwick, McKenna, Carter, Whaley, Nicholls 86, Brown, Hawley, Mellor 85, Neal, Ormerod.
Player to watch: Darren Carter
Players who leave The Hawthorns always seem to reserve something special for subsequent games against us.
West Bromwich Albion Team News:
Zoltan Gera is likely to return to Albion`s starting line-up after completing a one-match suspension but Tony Mowbray is otherwise keeping his selection cards very close to his chest.
He admitted that some players were carrying minor ‘knocks and niggles` but in true Tony style declined to elaborate any further.
West Bromwich Albion (from): Kiely, Steele, Hoefkens, Barnett, Pele, Albrechtsen, Cesar, Robinson, Gera, Morrison, Koren, Greening, Brunt, Filipe Teixeira, Bednar, Phillips, Beattie, MacDonald.
Player to watch: Zoltan Gera
The Hungarian international is back to the sort of form that endeared him to The Hawthorns fans way back in the first Premiership season.
Match Facts & Stats
Albion and Preston have a long history of rivalry, going back even beyond the first Football League season in 1888.
Twice Albion have beaten Preston in the final of the FA Cup, in 1888 and 1954.
Their league encounters have been more finely balanced, with each side recording 36 victories. There have been 23 draws. Albion have won eight of the 12 cup meetings between the two sides.
Preston won the corresponding fixture at Deepdale last season 1-0.
West Bromwich Albion v Burnley
The Hawthorns, Saturday February 2
Kick off: 3pm