Preston North End ready to press the restart button against Luton Town - three months after they should have played at Kenilworth Road

Three months ago Preston North End’s away strip was neatly packed and on its way to Luton with the kitman.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 18th June 2020, 4:45 pm
Preston North End's Ben Pearson and Patrick Bauer challenge Luton's George Moncur when the teams met at Deepdale in December 2019
Preston North End's Ben Pearson and Patrick Bauer challenge Luton's George Moncur when the teams met at Deepdale in December 2019

The PNE squad had one more training session to go over their tactics before setting off for an overnight stop ahead of the Kenilworth Road clash.

With the kitman’s van somewhere on the M6 and North End part-way through their training, word came through that the football season had been suspended.

Covid-19 had halted play but only at that stage until the start of April.

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PNE manager Alex Neil heads quickly for the tunnel during the game against Luton at Deepdale earlier in the season

Now, more than halfway through June, North End will make a second attempt to play Luton.

The restart button has been pressed, Alex Neil’s men now facing nine games in 33 days in which they will try and claim a play-off place.

North End will play those matches in the same order as per the original fixture list, however this is now summer football and a dash to the finish line.

The Luton trip had been eagerly anticipated in March – after all December 2006 was the last time PNE had played in Bedfordshire.

A rather restricted ticket allocation in the away end had been snapped up in double-quick time.

On Saturday though, the away end will be empty, as will the rest of Kenilworth Road, a ground squeezed between rows of houses and one which has not changed much since the last visit 13 years ago.

There might have been a three-month gap between the original planned visit and this restart clash.

However, the task for both PNE and Luton has not changed in between.

Alex Neil’s men need the three points in their quest to remain in the top six, with the Hatters wanting victory as they bid to escape the bottom three and avoid a quick return to League One.

What has changed at Luton in the meantime is the manager. Out went Graeme Jones in April and a month later in came Nathan Jones.

That should be ‘back came’ Nathan Jones, the Welshman taking charge for a second time having had a far from successful 11 months in charge of Stoke.

Jones will be looking to striker James Collins to be among the goals as Luton attempt to get out of trouble. The Republic of Ireland international has netted 11 times in the league this season and is set to lead the Hatters’ attack against PNE.

He has scored 56 goals since arriving on a free transfer Crawley in June 2017.

Looking ahead to the restart, Collins said: “We have got to fight every day, every game to make sure that is the case by the end of the season.

“A lot of things have happened since we last played.

“Obviously, the manager going and lads having 10 weeks off, but we’ve got to hit the ground running on Saturday and try and find a new bit of form.

“I think the form we showed leading up to the break, it did show we are capable of it. We have to keep that going.”