Preston North End will come up against some very familiar faces on Saturday as they travel to face Stoke City. The Lilywhites have enjoyed a lot of success at the Bet365 Stadium in recent years, including the last minute winner from Ched Evans at the start of this year.
The team in red and white will be a very different one though, to the one on show on that cold January day. Alex Neil is coming up to a year in charge of The Potters now, and has really shaped up his squad and backroom team this summer.
Last season Neil brought in former Preston fan favourite Ben Pearson on loan from Bournemouth. The midfielder has now signed a permanent deal with Stoke. To go alongside him in the centre of the park is Daniel Johnson. This one really hurt, after eight-and-a-half years at Deepdale it’s going to be very strange to see him line up for the opposition.
Also we know how good they are at this level, and Preston’s midfield will face one of their toughest challenges in the league this season.
We also know how good of a manager Alex Neil is, and how prepared he will be for this game. The Scotsman enjoyed a four-year spell in charge of Preston which came to an end during the behind closed doors season. Since then he has taken Sunderland to promotion from League One before a year of finding his feet with Stoke.
The Potters have so far made 15 signings in the transfer window. As well as DJ, they have brought in striker Ryan Mmaee who was linked with Preston earlier in the summer. They have also signed quite a few players from across Europe including Andre Vidigal who arrived from Maritimo and has had a very strong start to the season.
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Another familiar face on the Stoke ranks is Paull Gallagher. After being affiliated with Preston for the best part of a decade as a player and then coach, he chose to link up with Neil once again. Gally did play for Stoke on loan earlier in his career, and obviously relished the opportunity at linking up with Neil again.
Gallagher and Johnson will know a lot about Ryan Lowe and this Preston side. Although there have been quite a few changes over the summer, so we may be able to spring one or two surprises.
Preston will be backed by over 2,000 fans on Saturday and I would expect all former North Enders to get a decent reception. They were all important parts of the Preston squad in recent years, and no doubt they will be for Stoke in the coming years.