Preston Grasshoppers must make most of opportunity against bottom club

Alex Hurst returns to the Hoppers' squad (photo: Mike  Craig)
Alex Hurst returns to the Hoppers' squad (photo: Mike Craig)

Preston Grasshoppers start the new year with successive eastbound journeys as they bid to put behind them the bleak run of results that ended 2019.

Next Saturday they head for Sheffield but first there is a trip to stragglers Scunthorpe and a chance of the first “double” of the National League Two North campaign.

Hoppers defeated the Lincolnshire side 48-24 in September and tomorrow’s hosts have lost all 15 games to date. That leaves them 15 points behind next-to-bottom Preston, who have three wins, two draws and 11 defeats.

Hoppers have now gone eight games without a win and have drawn two and lost six away from Lightfoot Green.

They are 12 points from the safety of 13th place and head coach Paul Arnold said: “We are in an absolute dogfight.

“We need at least 15 points from our four games in January.”

Three of those games are away from home.

Arnold will make a late choice from a 23-strong squad, which is missing Tyler Spence and James Gough from the line-up that started against Fylde pre-Christmas.

Added to those on duty that day are Luke Procter, Ryan Carlson, Jake Squirrell, Jacob Browne, Alex Hurst and Jordan Dorrington.

After back-to-back away games to end the old year, second-placed Fylde return to Ansdell tomorrow to take on Wharfedale, who lie 12th.

Fylde remain four points ahead of third-placed Sedgley Park, who have a game in hand. Fylde won 32-19 at Wharfedale in September, one of 12 victories, together with a draw and three defeats.

In North One West, Vale of Lune also kick off 2020 with back-to-back away games. Next week it’s Bowdon, but first they visit Warrington, whom they defeated 28-18 at Powderhouse Lane back in September. That was one of 11 defeats from 13 for Warrington, who have a new ground at Grappenhall.

Vale name the same starting line-up that lost narrowly to Northwich before Christmas, with James Hesketh joining the replacements.

Hoppers (from): Gregson, Jordan, j Dorrington, W Davidson, Stott, Hurst, Fitzpatrick, Browne, T Davidson, Squirrell; Blanchard, Mabaya, Taylor, Trippier, Miller, Murray, Wallbank, Howard, Procter, Carlson, Harrison, B Dorrington, Lamprey.

Vale: Manning; Fern, Forest, Higginson, Kyle; Briggs, Swarbrick; Branford, Dokter, Pillow, Fellows, Cvijanovic, Powers, Ayrton, Robinson. Replacements: Hesketh, Yates, Tagg.