The 2020/21 Championship season begins at Deepdale on Saturday afternoon when Preston North End host Swansea City in a 3pm kick-off.
It will only be 45 days since the Swans’ Play-Off semi-final defeat to Brentford and 52 days since North End last faced competitive league action, but the action begins again in PR1.
Both sides last locked horns in January, when former ‘Jack’ Scott Sinclair scoring his first goal for his new club, before on-loan Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster grabbed an equaliser and a point for the visitors.
There have been changes to the Welsh side’s squad over the summer, with a number of players departing at the end of last season, but Steve Cooper will again be hoping to follow up a top six finish with a push for a return to the Premier League.
Competition: EFL SKY Bet Championship (1/46)
Date: Saturday 12th September, kick-off 3pm
Kit: 2020/21 home kit – click here to buy it now!
Head To Head: PNE wins – 20; Draws – 18; Swansea City wins - 25
PNE manager Alex Neil will be hoping to have a near to fully-fit squad for the clash with one of the two Welsh sides coming to Deepdale in the first three home games.
Goalkeeper Declan Rudd is back out on the grass and will be assessed before the squad is named to face the Swans, with just Louis Moult unavailable as he continues to build his fitness after missing a year following a knee injury suffered against the same opponents at the Liberty Stadium last August.
Swans boss Steve Cooper went with a 3-4-1-2 formation for their Carabao Cup forst round defeat to fellow Welshmen Newport County at Rodney Parade last weekend.
Should he choose to do the same at Deepdale, there will be a number of questions in his mind. If he persists with a back three, one of Joe Rodon, Marc Guehi, Ben Cabango and Kyle Naughton will have to start on the bench, with Connor Roberts and Jake Bidwell the most likely to feature in the wing-back slots.
In midfield, George Byers is currently recovering from a groin injury meaning Jay Fulton will compete with captain Matt Grimes and summer signing Korey Smith for a start. Former Bristol City man Smith sustained a knock in the South Wales derby contest, and was substituted, but he should be in contention to make his league debut at Deepdale.
In the attacking positions, Bersant Celina has moved to French club Dijon, leaving Morgan Gibbs-White as the leading contender to play in-front of Swansea's two midfield men, behind fellow new recruit Jamal Lowe and last season's top scorer Andre Ayew.
Swans manager Steve Cooper is expecting a difficult game when he brings his side to the north west at the weekend and feels the consistency in the Lilywhites squad is to its advantage.
“It’s going to be a tough game," he told the press at his online pre-match press conference. "It was last year. Preston are a really good outfit. They play in a very aggressive style of football that can be hard to play against.
"They’re more or less the same squad as last year, which was a strong one. They’ve got a chance to continue with their good work.
"It’s a tough game to get the campaign up and running. But we look forward to it and we’ll be ready for it.”
He also thinks the condensed season will add some extra challenges: “I think there’s going to be some really busy periods throughout the schedule that’ll end up probably being defining.
"We’re going into some unknown periods because of the timing of the start and the end of the season. It’s going to be really busy and a new experience for all of us. But we have to tackle it head on, like we did after lockdown.
"We haven’t had a long pre-season. We’ve got to work hard to hit the ground running as quick as we can.”
So, is he and the squad looking to go one better than last year's Play-Off defeat? “We’re not looking as far as that. We’ve got to be careful not to compare everything to last season. Lots of players left.
“We’re completely focused on Preston. We’ll take it step by step and in the end you end up where you deserve to be. It’s a while yet until anybody will be looking at league positions. Look at the short-term and focus on what you’re in control of.”
The match official for is Robert Jones, who we only saw a week ago in the Lilywhites’ final pre-season friendly at Everton.
The referee, from Merseyside, is in his fifth season on the EFL lists. He has officiated five North End games during his career the last being the home win over Sheffield Wednesday in the earlier stages of last season.
His first visit to PR1 was the 1-1 draw against Rotherham in April 2017 and, prior to the Leeds game, he most recently he refereed the Lilywhites’ 2-1 victory away against QPR in April 2018.
He took charge of last season’s League One Play-Off Final between Oxford United and Northampton Town at Wembley.
The assistants for the game will be Adrian Holmes and James Mainwaring while Richard Wild is the fourth official.
North End fans can watch Saturday's first league game with Swansea City live on iFollow PNE, with purchases of a £10 match pass available now.
Jonathan Breeze and former North End striker Brett Ormerod are on commentary duties, with four-camera coverage, replays, graphics and coverage from Deepdale from 2.50pm on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Neil Prepared For ‘Difficult Choices’: Preston North End manager Alex Neil has almost a full squad to choose from this weekend and he admits that means a few tough decisions will have to be made when selecting his starting XI. Click here for the full interview.
A Match To Remember: There are very few times where we look back at a defeat, but there was something important about our March 1993 clash with Swansea City at Deepdale. Click here for the details.
Jordan Storey Looking For Big Year: Preston North End centre half Jordan Storey begins his third season at Deepdale and is hoping to make it a big year for both the team and himself. Click here for Jordan’s thoughts.
A Foot In Both Camps: We look ahead to the visit of the Swans, with a former midfielder at both the visitors and Preston North End, Simon Davey, who spoke to us from his Atlanta home. Click here for the interview.