Tough trip awaits PNE

Birmingham's Jacques Maghoma celebrates after scoring against Burnley on Saturday
Birmingham's Jacques Maghoma celebrates after scoring against Burnley on Saturday
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Birmingham City and Preston North End seem well matched as they prepare to do battle at St Andrew’s.

The pair have fallen just short of the play-offs, slipping off the pace in recent games.

Two points and one place currently separate them, with December’s reverse fixture before Christmas ending in a 1-1 draw.

So North End’s visit to the Midlands has the hallmarks of being a close-run clash.

PNE boss Simon Grayson ran the rule over the Blues in their home clash with Leeds last Tuesday night.

Grayson said: “In the first half of that game they weren’t very good and I’m sure Gary Rowett wouldn’t argue about that.

“Birmingham were much better in the second half and Gary got a good reaction to the Leeds game when they played Burnley on Saturday.

“They should have got something out of Burnley and were unlucky not to do so.

“I think Birmingham have had a great season, they are going to fall just short of the play-offs a bit like ourselves.

“They gave us one of the toughest games we’ve had at Deepdale this season, they had a lot of pace in the team and played on the counter-attack against us.

“We know we are in for a tough game at their place but I’m sure they will be aware of our threats too.”

Since the December clash at Deepdale, Birmingham have lost the electric pace of Demarai Gray, the young forward having been sold to Leicester in January.

Missing from that game with injury were Clayton Donaldson and David Cotterill, both of who are now back to fitness and key players.

“They have got experience in their squad and some height too in Donaldson and Kyle Lafferty,” said Grayson.

“Birmingham are a team who can mix their play –they will do what is required to win a game, whether it by getting balls into the box from Cotterill or using the pace of the wide players.”

The Blues pushed Burnley all the way on Saturday, a sixth goal of the season from DR Congo midfielder Jacques Maghoma pulling them level after George Boyd had put the Clarets in front.

But they went down to a late Andre Gray goal and were reduced to 10 men in stoppage -time when Jon Toral was sent-off.

Toral will be suspended for Preston’s visit, with Diego Fabbrini his likely replacement.

Blues manager Rowett said: “Certainly Diego will come into contention.

“We could go with Diego, we could go with three midfielder or have Lafferty as an additional forward.”