The Blades were in Johnstone's Paint Trophy action last Wednesday night; taking a break from the regular League One season and went through with redounding success, beating Nott's County 4-1 at Meadow Lane to book a place in the next round at Coventry City. Braces from Shaun Miller and Harry Maguire secured the win whilst former Blade Jordan Stewart netted a scant consolation for the hosts.
Sheffield United completed the double over North End last season and will no doubt be looking to do the same, they met first at Deepdale almost a year ago (19 October), the visitors winning 4-2. Much praise must go to Billy Clarke who on his United debut unselfishly set up all four goals which came with braces from winger Matt Phillips (4 & 39 minutes) and midfielder Lee Williamson (74 & 84). Goals from Clarke Carlisle (29) and Iain Hume (63) pegged the Blades back to a 2-2 draw until former Deepdale loanee Williamson twice found the net.
In the return fixture at the Lane (18 February) the Blades came from a goal down after Graham Cummins (38) had given the visitors an unlikely lead, but the hosts were soon back in it and before half-time, via the reliable Ched Evans (42) were back to 1-1. With seven minutes remaining Evans (83) netted the winner.
Danny Wilson had made changes to the side against Nott's County which had previously drawn 1-1 with Oldham Athletic last Saturday, Darryl Westlake (for Tony McMahon), Shun Miller (for Dave Kitson), Matty Harriott (for Kevin McDonald), Jordan Chapell (for John Cofie) and Chris Porter (for Nick Blackman) were all included in the starting eleven, they are likely to be replaced once again by there respective replacements. Meanwhile it was a welcome return for defender Lecsinel Jean-Francois who has recovered from injury and was able to fit in 15 minutes of football.
Veteran striker Richard Cresswell is likely to start against his former club. He was signed by the Lilywhites in March 2001 - initially on loan until the end of the season before making a permanent deal. Cresswell scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers and added a further goal at Barnsley (4-0) before the seasons end. He stayed at Deepdale until August 2005 when he signed for Leeds United. North End made the play-off final in May 2005; beating Derby County in the semis before losing 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium to West Ham United, they were 90 minutes away from the top flight and failed. Along the way he netted hat-tricks at Leicester City in the League Cup and also against Sunderland on New Years Day, making a total of 172 (+20) appearances and scored 57 goals for the Deepdale club.
Neill Collins could make a return from injury against his former club. He too joined the Lilywhites after a successful loan spell; initially signing in September 2009 (from Wolverhampton Wanderers) and made his deal permanent in January. However he made too few appearances before joining Leeds United on loan in February 2010. He had made his debut at home to Coventry City in a 3-2 win. He scored his only goal for North End against Ipswich Town (2-0) and made his final appearance at Derby County (lost 3-5) on 16 February before moving to Elland Road and signed permanent in the summer. He made a total of 20 (+2) appearances for the Lancashire side and scored just once.
Matt Hill is also a former custodian of the Lancashire side; he signed for £100,000 from Bristol City in January 2005, ending a seven year spell at Ashton Gate. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Leicester City and he too was on the losing side (along with Cresswell) in the Play-Off Final against the Hammers. In September 2008 he ended his association with Preston, signing for Wolverhampton Wanderers after making 107 (+12) appearances without scoring.
North End manager Graham Westley is without any new injury concerns after there 0-0 draw with Milton Keynes Dons last weekend, though is without long term absentees Lee Trundle and Lee Holmes. Paul Huntington could make way whilst Bailey Wright is set to keep his place following an impressive run of form.
Defender Chris Robertson, 25 could play against his former club. He was on the books at Bramall Lane between July and March 2007 where he failed to break into the first team. Chester City handed him is Football League debut in a 5-0 drumming at Carlisle United whilst on a month’s loan in January 2006. In March 2007 he made a free transfer to Plainmoor, scoring on his debut in a 3-0 home win over Wycombe Wanderers.
Steve Simonsen is likely to retain his place on the substitutes bench for the Lilywhites. Simmo initially signed for United on loan (from Stoke City) in March 2010; making his debut in a 1-1 draw at Doncaster Rovers and in the summer made a full free transfer to the Blades, he was part of the squad which was relegated from the Championship and he missed the vital spot kick at Wembley last season which could have seen us back there. During his time with the Blades he made 106 (+2) appearances.
Blades-Mad Prediction: Preston North End 1-1 Sheffield United