Derby rivalry with Fylde back on festive calendar for Preston Grasshoppers
The second half of the National League Two North campaign kicks off on Saturday with the tasty derby clash between Preston Grasshoppers and Fylde.
Both clubs are anxious for points for very different reasons – Hoppers are battling to escape from the relegation zone while Fylde are fighting to stave off Sedgley Park’s challenge for second place in the table.
Games in the Christmas period between the old rivals have long been a feature of the programme, with regular Boxing Day meetings before the advent of league rugby made that difficult.
Happily, when they have been in the same division, the tradition has been able to continue with late-December fixtures.
Despite Fylde lying second and Hoppers 15th, the hosts’ head coach Paul Arnold said: “It’s difficult to call. The form book goes out of the window for games against Fylde.”
Last season, his side won 18-15 at Lightfoot Green in September but lost 33-17 at Fylde in December.
Hoppers go into the game on the back of that rarest of scorelines, a 0-0 draw at Otley – only the second such result in the history of the National Leagues – to end a run of six defeats.
That was their second draw of the season – the first, ironically, coming at Ansdell in September, when the sides shared 48 points, with the visitors’ Nick Gregson landing a crucial late kick to tie the scores.
So Hoppers now have three victories, two draws and 10 defeats and a home record of three wins out of eight. They are eight points behind 13th-placed Luctonians.
Fylde have 11 wins, three defeats and that one draw, with last Saturday’s loss at Sheffield being only their second in eight games on the road. They are eight points behind leaders Caldy and four ahead of Sedgley Park, with both those clubs having a game in hand.
Hoppers welcome back forwards Ryan Carlson and Sam Wallbank and backs Scott Jordan and Jordan Dorrington in a squad of 22 from which a late selection will be made.
The major absentee is skipper and hooker Paul Millea, who was taken ill last weekend.
Over the years, of course, a number of players have appeared for both clubs.
In an interesting twist on the theme this weekend, hooker-turned-flanker Phil Mills returns to Fylde to face another of his former clubs – he has just joined on loan from Rossendale to cover for something of an injury crisis among the Fylde forwards.
According to the provisional line-up, he will pack down in the back row alongside Jacob Conner and Dave Fairbrother.
Hoppers (from): Gregson, Jordan, Stott, Hurst, W Davidson, Fitzpatrick, Spence, J Dorrington, T Davidson, B Dorrington, Gough; Mabaya, Blanchard, Taylor, Miller, Howard, Murray, Wallbank, Carlson, Harrison, Trippier, Lamprey.
Fylde: Wilkinson; Carleton, Briers, Rawlings, Grimes; Smith, Lanigan; Horner, Gregory, Lewis, N Ashcroft, Parkinson, Conner, Mills, Fairbrother. Replacements: Stephenson, M Ashcroft, O’Ryan, Forster, Botha.
l Hoppers’ now traditional Boxing Day charity game is this year raising funds for, among other organisations, the Stroke Association and to buy an electric wheelchair and support home alterations and physiotherapy for club member and volunteer Stephen Nicholls.
The 58-year-old suffered a severe stroke eight months after retiring from BAE Systems.
The usual mixed Boxing Day Hoppers squad will take on Garstang in a game that kicks off at 1pm.