Preston North End starting XI: Rudd; Rafferty, Storey, Bauer, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Browne, Ledson; Maguire, Barkhuizen.
Preston North End substitutes: Ripley, Fisher, Gallagher, Johnson, Potts, Bodin, Sinclair, Stockley, Nugent.
Alex Neil takes his side to Hillsborough this evening to take on Sheffield Wednesday in an absolutely vital clash.
North End drew 0-0 at Huddersfield Town on Saturday, and will hope for better in South Yorkshire tonight after that stalemate in West Yorkshire.
With Cardiff City losing last night and Derby County losing tonight, Preston have one last chance to really drag themselves back to the top six.
Garry Monk has been using a 3-5-2 of late, and Neil has decided to match him up with a system North End rarely use.
Declan Rudd starts in goal, behind a back three of Jordan Storey, Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies, with Joe Rafferty and Andrew Hughes as the wing backs.
Ryan Ledson keeps his place in midfield alongside Ben Pearson and Alan Browne, with Seani Maguire and Tom Barkhuizen forming a front two.
Daniel Johnson returns to the bench, alongside Connor Ripley, Darnell Fisher, Paul Gallagher, Brad Potts, Billy Bodin, Scott Sinclair, Jayden Stockley and David Nugent.
Fans will say that this is classic Neil, worrying too much about the opposition. It’s a gamble to go with a system we very rarely play, but he obviously feels it’s necessary to match them up system-wise.
Storey and Davies will be flanking Bauer in the back three. Bauer, as the most aerially dominant of the three, will be tasked with nullifying Atdhe Nuhiu, who has had his way with Davies and Storey in the past. The balance is nice, as Storey and Davies can build attacks on their respective sides whilst they have the mobility to deal with balls down the sides.
Rafferty and Hughes aren’t exactly the most adventurous full backs ever, so it may be hard to see North End building much going forward down the flanks. It may sound odd, but don’t be surprised if Darnell Fisher comes on the second half to provide more attacking impetus, or even see Browne switch over to right wing back.
Pearson and Ledson will do plenty of dirty work in the middle, with Browne possibly having a more free role, using his energy and legs to break forward to support Barkhuizen and Maguire – a strike force that could be dangerous on the counter.
There are plenty of options to change the game on the bench, and it feels like do or die for North End tonight. Johnson’s return is a welcome one, and let’s hope we finally see Bodin given a proper chance.