Weblog: The football punter

Lilywhites look value for win over stretched Rams

Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Friday

Preston's mid-season recovery has probably come too late to lift them into the Sky Bet Championship playoff reckoning but they can narrow the gap to the top six to seven points by beating Derby at Deepdale.

The spectre of relegation hung over Preston in the early months of the season with Alex Neil's side picking up five points from their first ten league games.

Since the start of October they have done much better, winning eight, drawing seven and losing four, and they approach the Derby fixture on a high following impressive victories away to QPR (4-1) and Stoke (2-0).

Earlier in the campaign Preston were dealt several injury blows but key attacker Sean Maguire returned to contention in January and captain Tom Clarke is back in the mix after missing the last two games with a calf strain.

Neil's options have been boosted further by the January signings of defender Joe Rafferty, midfielder Brad Potts and attackers Jayden Stockley and Josh Ginnelly.

All have arrived from lower-division clubs and Potts and Stockley are already showing their worth by establishing themselves as first-team regulars.

Powerful centre-forward Stockley gives Preston's attack a focal point that had been lacking and Potts adds a goal threat from midfield - he has netted in two of his first three appearances for the club.

It is not the first time Preston have bought well from the lower divisions and the success of their scouting network is a key element in helping them compete with the better-funded second-tier clubs.

Derby are one of those teams with a much bigger budget and they flexed their muscles last week by acquiring left-back Ashley Cole on a deal until the end of the season.

Rams' boss Frank Lampard is doing his utmost to win a promotion in his first season in management and has plenty to be happy about with Derby sixth in the Championship and through to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

However, he has been managing a spate of injuries in recent weeks and has to make at least two enforced changes this week with regular right-back Jayden Bogle suspended and midfielder Mason Mount ruled out with a hamstring injury.

The strain was starting to show last Saturday as Derby scraped a 1-0 success at Accrington in the FA Cup fourth round.

They rode their luck at the Wham Stadium but could run out of fortune against Preston, who look value to take the points.


The Football Site

Like on Facebook


Match in Focus


Man City v Tottenham

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • City scored in the opening half of 16 of their 19 home league games last term
Expert verdict
Manchester City beat Tottenham in three of their four meetings last term and an early season duel at the Etihad should see the Citizens uphold the form. Spurs supporters may feel they won 2018-19’s most crucial clash – the 1-0 first-leg victory at their new stadium that saw the Lilywhites advance into the Champions League semi-finals at the expense of Pep Guardiola’s men. But while Guardiola has yet to crack the code in Europe with City, his team have barely put a foot wrong domestically. Fast starts against Liverpool in the Community Shield and at West Ham suggest they will look to seize the early initiative.