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Last weekend both Brighton and Middlesbrough played their games before we took on Birmingham City at St. Andrew’s but it is all change this week as we go first tonight with a Lancashire derby against Preston North End at Deepdale.

We go into the game in second place in the table but would certainly put both of the other two under pressure with a win which would take us back to first place. But nothing can be decided this weekend as all three of us look for vital wins.

It’s the first time we’ve played a league game at Deepdale in over five years, since Jay Rodriguez and Jack Cork both scored in a 2-1 win. Then, it was Preston in desperate need of points to avoid the drop but this year it is very much roles reversed with them placed nicely in mid-table in their first season back in the Championship.

I recall captain Tom Heaton setting himself a target back in August of twenty clean sheets to beat the nineteen he kept two seasons ago. That looked a forlorn hope half way through the season but he’s now only two away from that 2013/14 total and it would be brilliant to see him equal it tonight.

The focus is solely on us
The focus is solely on us

Ahead of tonight’s game, he said: “We’ll go into the next game looking to do the same and put in the processes that will get us the right result. The culture has been in place since I’ve been here but I think that spirit is building and getting stronger and stronger.

“The gaffer has mentioned it numerous times that we’ve got a strong jaw when we go behind or things don’t go our way. We may have to draw upon that again at some stage and we’ll make sure do.”

He added: “We’re all looking forward to it because it’s another big game. Three in six or seven days is always good and obviously we’re looking to win. We’ll respect Preston but the focus is solely on us. We can hopefully draw on the experience of the squad, a lot of which has been promoted.”

It will be a 128th league appearance for Heaton since he joined the Clarets in the summer of 2013. He’s been an ever present in the league and kept such as Alex Cisak, Matt Gilks and now Paul Robinson out of the side.

There has been no news of any injuries so we can expect the same players to be in front of him when we line up with James Tarkowski, who missed Tuesday with a knock, returning to the bench in place of Michael Duff who showed a real turn of pace to join in Tuesday’s goal celebrations.

I’d expect us to line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Andre Gray. Subs: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, David Jones, Matt Taylor, Lloyd Dyer, Ashley Barnes.

Preston, having been out of the Championship for four years, returned last season. They did drop to next to bottom during October and were still as low as 18th after winning at the Turf in December, but four successive wins in February hauled them up to ninth and they’ve virtually stayed around there since, currently in tenth place.

They’ve become a decent Championship team, of that there is no doubt, but they do go into the game tonight looking for their first win in five games, their last victory, enjoyed by Burnley fans, coming at Ewood Park at the beginning of this month.

Their strength is defensively having conceded only 42 goals. That’s better than every team below them with only the top five having conceded less. At the other end of the pitch, where they have scored 42, only the bottom three and Blackburn have scored less.

Daniel Johnson is their leading scorer. He scored their second when they won at Burnley but the other scorer, Will Keane, is no longer with them having been recalled by Manchester United, a decision that I’m sure twin brother Michael will appreciate tonight.

They came from two goals behind to grab a point at Birmingham on Tuesday night when Alan Brown and Greg Cunningham scored the goals.

Anders Lindegaard was in goal for the first half but injury forced him off at half time with Chris Kirkland taking over after the break. Lindegaard remains a doubt, as does full back Marnick Vermijl with a foot injury.

Their team on Tuesday was: Anders Lindegaard, Marnick Vermijl, Greg Cunningham, Ben Pearson, Tom Clarke, Bailey Wright, Alan Browne, Paul Gallagher, Eoin Doyle, Joe Garner, Adam Reach. Subs: Chris Kirkland, Daniel Johnson, John Welsh, Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson, Paul Huntington, Jermaine Beckford.




Burnley were enjoying a honeymoon period under new manager Eddie Howe last time we faced Preston but they were seriously struggling with Phil Brown in charge and went into the game not having won in any of their previous eleven league games and having won just one from the last the last nineteen.

We were tenth in the Championship but Preston were bottom and some ten points away from safety. The points went our way although it was anything but easy and we had to come from behind to win it.

Preston probably started the better but little happened until, out of the blue, they went in front. It wasn’t a good goal from our point of view as scorer Barry Nicholson beat Tyrone Mears to the ball and got his shot away which Lee Grant got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.

Jack Cork's diving header wins it for Burnley
Jack Cork’s diving header wins it for Burnley

Thankfully they weren’t in front for long. Grant’s long kick was headed on by Chris Iwelumo to Chris Eagles. He slipped the ball through for Jay Rodriguez who nonchalantly stroked the ball home with his right foot.

It was all square at half time and we stepped things up in the second half. Jay missed the target with a header and Dean Marney was clearly brought down in the box with referee Howard Webb waving away the penalty claims.

It was blatant, despite the fact that Preston’s official web site reported: “Marney has just gone down like a sack of spuds and should really have been booked for simulation.”

So, still 1-1, but then, with just six minutes remaining, Jack Cork swept the ball out to substitute Wade Elliott on the right wing. Wade’s cross was perfect for Cork who had covered some ground to get there to score with a diving header in front of a packed Shankly which rose as one.

It proved to be Cork’s last goal for us and the game was won, although there was one last moment for Preston who were able to give Graham Alexander a standing ovation as he came on as a substitute.

It was crack on time now for Burnley, we’d reached 50 points and with 14 games still to play.

The Preston site reported: “You won’t see many more games as one sided as that, but Burnley got that all important second.”

And I didn’t think we’d dominated the second half quite that much.

The teams were;

Preston: Iain Turner, David Gray, Craig Morgan, Sean St. Ledger, Billy Jones, Paul Coutts (Iain Hume 61), Ian Ashbee, Barry Nicholson, Keith Treacy (Darren Carter 82), Leon Clarke (Eddie Johnson 69), Nathan Ellington. Subs not used: Andy Lonergan, Bailey Wright, Paul Parry, Paul Hayes.

Burnley: Lee Grant, Tyrone Mears, Clarke Carlisle, Michael Duff, Danny Fox, Jack Cork, Dean Marney, Ross Wallace (Wade Elliott 69), Chris Eagles (Graham Alexander 88), Jay Rodriguez, Chris Iwelumo (Charlie Austin 81). Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Andre Bikey, Marvin Bartley, Steven Thompson.

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