Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: Gloves are off at Deepdale
The battle to get the nod to be Preston North End's first-choice keeper has heated up of late.
It is Max and Dec double act, the gloves being fought over by Chris Maxwell and Declan Rudd.
In my view we are seeing the closest contest for the green jersey that North End have had since David Lucas and Tepi Moilanen were in competition.
There is little to separate Maxwell and Rudd, they are the same age – 27 – and have plenty of games under their belt.
They are different types of goalkeeper though, and have taken different routes to Deepdale but they want the same thing – to be playing every week.
At the moment, who goes between the posts must be giving Alex Neil plenty of food for thought.
For more than half the season, Maxwell ruled the roost and started the first 29 games – 28 in the league and the League Cup defeat against Accrington.
Until November, Rudd was sidelined with a thigh injury suffered in the early moments of the opening pre-season friendly at Bamber Bridge in July.
After being declared fit, there was a patient wait on the bench for Rudd with just two FA Cup games to keep him busy.
The former Norwich man stayed in after January’s cup exit at Sheffield United and played 10 games in a row.
That run was halted last week, not by injury or loss of form, but a bundle of joy called Luca.
While his team-mates were beating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Rudd was sampling the gas and air in the delivery suite awaiting the arrival of son and heir.
Maxwell came back into the team on Wearside and kept a clean sheet in the snow.
So who gets the nod when action resumes at Sheffield Wednesday?
I would suspect Rudd is in pole position, in that he was in the team on merit and only dropped out last week for non-football reasons.
We must factor in that Maxwell is currently with the Wales squad in China and won’t be back until midweek.
He will feel he staked a strong claim for a place with his display at Sunderland.
Maxwell dealt with what the Black Cats threw at him which boiled down to a good piece of keeping in saving at the feet of Joel Asoro in the first half and then tipping a Kazenga Lualua free-kick over the bar later on.
In between, his handling was safe and his kicking fine in the swirling wind.
I mentioned Lucas and Moilanen earlier in terms of trying to draw a comparison in competition.
There have been some very good goalkeepers since their era but often they were well out in front of the man backing them up.
Lucas and Moilanen were an equal split, David Moyes giving them similar amounts of time on the pitch.
The pattern from then on has been for one keeper to lay a strong claim on the gloves and play the majority of games.
Jonathan Gould, Carlo Nash and Andrew Lonergan all had lengthy residences between the PNE goalposts.
Then we saw a spell of chop and change, more so as the manager changed.
Rudd’s time on loan in 2013 and 2014 saw things go back to one dominant man in pegs.
He was preferred over Thorsten Stuckmann after his arrival in the second half of the 2012/13 campaign.
When Rudd came back at the start of the 2013/14 season, he played every league and play-off game.
Sam Johnstone and the excellent Jordan Pickford both followed in Rudd’s loan footsteps, as did initially Anders Lindegaard.
Maxwell arrived in June 2016 from Fleetwood and by September had wrestled the gloves off Lindegaard.
Not until late January did he let go of them.
Preston manager Neil has spoken of Rudd and Maxwell bringing different strengths to the table.
Rudd he sees more as your traditional goalkeeper, while Maxwell lends himself to the description of ‘sweeper keeper’.
Neil seems at ease with both approaches and for him it comes down to form.
Away from the goalkeeper battle, hats off to all 2,227 PNE supporters who found their way to Sunderland.
Getting to and from the North East was tricky to say the least as winter returned.
Crossing the A66 was an ordeal for many, blizzard conditions offering a big test.
And on the way home, snowplough rather than car and coach would have been the most sensible method of transport.
So for more than 2,000 to have ventured to Wearside was a big show of loyalty.
They witnessed at first hand just what a mess hosts Sunderland are in.
You could cut the tension with a knife, every stray pass from a Sunderland player greeted with frustration.
From the moment Sean Maguire’s diving header hit the back of the net, there was only going to be one winner.
One Sunderland fan later tweeted with a heavy touch of arrogance that he’d never heard of any of the Preston players.
I’d heard of all of the Black Cats players but I know which team is heading in the right direction – and it isn’t Sunderland.