It’s the final game of what has been a very strange and difficult year for everyone on Tuesday night, when Preston North End welcome Coventry City to Deepdale.
But a victory for the Lilywhites would see them end 2020 on a high, on the back of three straight wins, however, that will be a tough task against a Sky Blues side who have adapted well after promotion in the summer.
PNE’s last gasp win over Derby County on Boxing Day lifted them onto the cusp of the top half of the table, with a victory in Tuesday certain to see them in that top half for the start of 2021.
The visitors return to Deepdale for the first time since February 2015, when Kevin Davies’ goal was enough to give the home side the three points on their way to their own promotion back to the second tier.
Competition: EFL Sky Bet Championship (22/46)
Date: Tuesday 29th December, kick-off 7.45pm
Kit: 2020/21 home kit – click here to buy it now!
Head To Head: PNE wins – 16; Draws – 14; Coventry City - 10
Alex Neil will need to assess the fitness of top scorer Scott Sinclair, who came off late in the game at Pride Park on Boxing Day.
Ryan Ledson returned for the victory over Derby County and played his part in Alan Browne's late winner, but the manager was still without Brad Potts, Ben Pearson, Louis Moult, Andrew Hughes and Billy Bodin.
For their stalemate at Stoke on Saturday, Sky Blues boss Mark Robins made two changes to his Coventry City side and they were boosted by the return of star men Gus Hamer and Matty Godden.
Godden went straight in for the injured Tyler Walker in the 3-4-2-1 formation. Midfielder Hamer, meanwhile, returned from a one match suspension, coming in for striker Max Biamou, who dropped to the bench.
Skipper Liam Kelly is a big absentee at the moment, with a groin injury, but other than the two returness, there were no other changes for Robins on Boxing Day.
For the second time this season, taking charge of North End as referee on Tuesday night is experienced official Keith Stroud.
His game earlier this season was the televised encounter with Cardiff City, and he has also officiated the Sky Blues twice already, in draws against Swansea City and Norwich City, both ending 1-1.
Before this year, he last took charge of North End for our 2-1 home win over Fulham last December. Before that he also refereed of our win at Middlesbrough in March 2019 and the 1-1 draw with Swansea City back in January, his first game at Deepdale for a number of years.
In 2017/18, the Hampshire official took charge of two PNE games, both away from Deepdale, the first at Birmingham City back in September 2017, when goals from Tom Barkhuizen, Daniel Johnson and Jordan Hugill saw the side come from behind at the break to end Harry Redknapp’s tenure at St Andrews and the second, the win at Burton Albion in December the same year.
In 2016/17 his only game with the whistle for a PNE game was our loss at Brentford, whilst the previous season he also took charge of another game at Birmingham, as North End came from 2-0 down against what was then Gary Rowett’s men, with goals from Alan Browne and now Bluebirds defender Greg Cunningham earning the Lilywhites a point.
That was his second North End game in two months after he took charge of PNE’s home win over Sheffield Wednesday in February 2015, as well as PNE's last clash with a steel city side at Deepdale, 2014/15's FA Cup tie with Sheffield United. The win over the Owls was his last visit to Deepdale prior to January.
The official also refereed the Lilywhites Play-Off clash with Rotherham United in May 2014 as well as the previous season’s 3-2 home win over Ipswich Town, when Joe Garner scored a second half hat-trick as a substitute to knock the Tractor Boys out of the FA Cup at the fourth round stage.
His two previous league trips to Deepdale prior to that also saw wins, the famous 6-0 triumph over Cardiff City, which led to the Play-Offs in 2009 and a 2-1 win over West Brom the previous year, when the Lilywhites ended the game with nine men after the dismissal of both Youl Mawene and Chris Brown.
On Tuesday, Keith will be assisted by Jonathan Hunt and Matthew Jones, with Lewis Smith acting as the fourth official. It will be Keith’s 19th game of the season, having so far issued 44 cautions and one red card.
North End fans can watch Tuesday’s game live on iFollow PNE, with purchases of a £10 match pass available now.
Jonathan Breeze and former PNE skipper and Coventry-born Graham Alexander will be on commentary duties, with replays, graphics and coverage from Deepdale from approximately 7.15pm on Tuesday evening.
Alex Neil: “They Play A Good Brand Of Football”: Preston North End manager Alex Neil has been impressed by the style of Tuesday’s opponents Coventry City since their return to the Championship. Click here for the full interview.
A Match To Remember: We go back to the last season North End reached the Championship Play-Offs for our latest look back to a game against our upcoming opponents. Click here for the details of the game we have covered.
Tom Bayliss ‘Buzzing’ Ahead Of Sky Blues Visit: One man in the Preston North End squad has more reason than most to look forward to the Lilywhites’ next fixture. Click here for Tom’s thoughts.
The One And Only Issue 11: Tuesday’s edition of the matchday programme sees skipper Alan Browne as the cover star and the main interviewee. Click here for more information.