Preston North End and Cardiff City neck-and-neck as they prepare to meet at Deepdale in key clash
A hair’s breadth separates Preston and Cardiff in the Championship table and thus piles the importance on their meeting at Deepdale this Saturday lunchtime.
Level on points, North End have the marginally better goal difference – they are plus five, the Bluebirds plus four.
Victory for Alex Neil’s men would allow them to open up a gap again on the Welsh side.
Lose on Saturday though, and they surrender their grip on sixth place – one which has been precarious since before lockdown.
This has shades of spring 2009 when PNE were chasing Cardiff in the play-off hunt.
They beat Cardiff 6-0 in a meeting close to the end of the season and the sixth goal which the Lilywhites scored that afternoon ultimately earned them a top-six place.
Wind the clock forward to June 2020 and more matches remain for things to change than they did 11 years ago.
So prepare for plenty of twists and turns as the games start coming at a pace – eight in 27 days.
Cardiff pulled level with PNE last Sunday after a 2-0 win over Leeds United.
Junior Hoilett and Robert Glatzel found the net in a game when Neil Harris’ men had just 31% of possession.
That was a statistic which proves a dominance of the ball doesn’t necessarily bring the desired result.
Pre-lockdown, Cardiff had beaten Barnsley and drawn with Brentford to put two defeats behind them.
Those losses had followed a seven-game unbeaten run, the side from the Welsh capital having quietly come up on the rails into the play-off race.
After seeing his side beat Leeds, Harris said: “It told us straight away that we’re focused and that we have got a desire and a hunger to be successful this season.
“The players deserve great credit for the way they conducted themselves physically and professionally over the lockdown period.
“They’ve come back, attacked every training session and have really bought into it – then we’ve scored two quality goals.”
Harris added that beating Leeds had been special in that he had got the better of Marcelo Bielsa.
“I was pumped up for the game because I wanted to beat Leeds because I wanted to beat Marcelo Bielsa, because he’s the main man,” said Harris who started the season as Millwall boss before taking the Cardiff job in October.
“The players were the same. They wanted to impose themselves on the division and they did that.”
Hoilett and Glatzel scoring against Leeds saw them both move to five goals apiece in the Championship this season.
Lee Tomlin is Cardiff’s leading scorer in the league with seven goals, with Joe Ralls on six.
When PNE and Cardiff met four days before Christmas at the Cardiff City Stadium, the sides shared a 0-0 draw in a televised clash.
That is North End’s only goalless draw this campaign to date and really they should have won it having created a string of decent chances.