Sheffield Wednesday: In focus - Friday's opponents Preston North End

Preston North End boss Alex Neil
Preston North End boss Alex Neil
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Sheffield Wednesday will look on enviously at Friday's opponents Preston North End. The Lilywhites are sitting in a position which the Owls, at worst, would have hoped for following the last two seasons.

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Preston are eighth, only two points off the play-off places as the Owls languish in 17th. Wednesday, with a win, could aid rivals Sheffield United's own play-off hopes.

Manager

A tenacious but intelligent midfield general, Alex Neil was a player who looked like natural fit for the transition into management. But it arrived much earlier than expected. He was appointed interim player/manager for Hamilton Academical aged 31 in April 2013, being installed permanently a month later. He took to the role perfectly, leading Accies to promotion to the Scottish Premiership. By the end of October, Hamilton were top of the league and had won at Celtic Park for the first time in 76 years.

Hamilton were an attractive side to watch with a mean side. It unsurprising that there was interest in Neil and he made the move to the Championship in January taking over Norwich City who sat seventh. He steered them to third, a play-off semi-final win over rivals Ipswich and then promotion. Neil encountered his first real managerial difficulty in the Premiership as the side were relegated and he left with the Canaries sitting eighth in the Championship last season.

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One to watch

Having moved from Irish football at the start of the season, Sean Maguire was adjusting well to life in the Championship. He was playing as a foil for burly target man for Jordan Hugill but then injury struck and he missed four months of action and 19 league games. Since his return he has hit five goals in four league appearances.

It has coincided with a return to a more central role. A role he performed for Cork City, netting a hat-trick in the Europa League qualifiers before his Preston move. His attributes fit into Preston's style. He's hard-working, dangerous on the counter-attack and a goal threat.

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Formation

Alex Neil is wedded to the 4-2-3-1 system, only deviating seven times in 38 matches. The team embody their manager in being aggressive winning the ball back and then smart with their use of it, trying to profit from the transition as the opposition reorganise.

Injury table

Preston have a clear bill of health.

Previous meeting

Wednesday season of disappointment began on a sunny summer's day at Deepdale when they fell to a 1-0 defeat, Daniel Johnson netting from the penalty spot. The last time Preston won at Hillsborough was in 2009.

Form

A run of only two defeats in 12 has pushed the Lilywhites into play-off contention. They've not lost away from home in the league since the start of November.

Stats

If Preston miss out on the play-offs it will be due to the number of draws (15). No team has drawn more games, while only four of the top five have lost fewer games.

What the manager is saying

“We are at the stage of the season now where each game we play – especially if we get a positive result – can magnify the next one. “The next game becomes bigger and bigger, the way I have described it to the lads is that it is like a snowball effect – after this one, the next one is even bigger.

Odds

Sheffield Wednesday 15/8, draw 11/5, Preston North End 6/4