Preston's landmark game will have to wait - Players to keep their distance from fans amid coronavirus outbreak

The big football shut-down means Preston North End will have to wait a little longer to play their landmark 5,000th league game.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 14th March 2020, 11:05 am
Updated Saturday, 14th March 2020, 11:08 am

PNE’s Deepdale clash with Derby scheduled for next Saturday was to see them become the first team in English football to play 5,000 league matches.

However, that was one of three matches the club had postponed yesterday as the EFL and Premier League put the season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The shutdown is until April 3 at the earliest, with football’s authorities reviewing the timescale on an ongoing basis.

Preston players will not be signing autographs or mixing with fans in light of the coronavirus outbreak

Play-off chasing North End had been due to play Luton at Kenilworth Road today, Cardiff at home on Wednesday and then Derby next weekend.

As things stand, they are due to return to action at Huddersfield on April 4, then they play Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Good Friday (April 10).

So the 5,000th game will be against Nottingham Forest on Easter Monday as things stand.

On Thursday evening, both the EFL and Premier League had signalled business as usual with regards matches being played this weekend.

That changed overnight when news of Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta being diagnosed with Covid-19 was made public.

By 11am, clubs had been contacted to say they would not be playing for three weeks.

There was an international break scheduled for the last weekend in March which made the shutdown easier.

North End’s players were training when confirmation of the postponements came through, going through their final preparations for the Luton game.

Kitman Steve Cowell was already on his way down to Kenilworth Road to store the kit overnight in the away dressing room.

PNE manager Alex Neil had strongly supported a shutdown when he spoke at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.

He felt that was a better way of protecting the health of players, staff and fans rather than playing games behind closed doors.

Neil will keep his squad ticking over during the break in the fixture list and hope they stay healthy.

In a statement, PNE said the squad would not be taking part in public appearances to reduce the health risks.

It read: “Unfortunately, the first-team squad will not be making any player appearances in the community for the foreseeable future.

“The first-team players and management will also be unable to shake hands, sign autographs or pose for photographs with supporters until further notice.”