Preston North End vs Sunderland Preview: Lilywhites look to compound former boss' misery on his return to Deepdale

Black Cats boss Simon Grayson returns to Deepdale on Saturday for the first time since his summer departure, but will he emerge victorious?

Preston North End vs Sunderland Preview: Lilywhites look to compound former boss' misery on his return to Deepdale
Preston could extend their unbeaten run to eight games on Saturday. (Photo: Andrew Kearns / CameraSport / Getty Images)

One of the Championship's form sides face one of the division's out of form sides on Saturday as Preston North End welcome Sunderland to Deepdale.

The match has an added edge due to the involvement of Black Cats boss Simon Grayson, who left his post as Preston boss over the summer to take over from David Moyes on Wearside.

Grayson spent just over four years in Lancashire and led Preston back to the Championship in 2015 by defeating Swindon Town in the League One play-off final.

Lilywhites excelling under new management

Following Grayson's departure, the Preston hierarchy saw fit to hire former Norwich City boss Alex Neil as their new manager for the 2017/18 season and the move is certainly paying off so far.

They have lost just once in the league and are currently on a seven game unbeaten run which leaves them fifth in the Championship table, which they will be looking to extend to eight games on Saturday against a Sunderland side void of confidence.

Neil has made a solid backline the top priority since arriving in Lancashire with Preston conceding just four goals in 10 league games this season, while the next best defensive record is held by Middlesbrough who have conceded seven times.

The club's highest scorers are only on two goals apiece with Tom Barkhuizen, Sean Maguire, Jordan Hugill and Daniel Johnson all joint-top in the club's scoring charts while Barkhuizen holds the most assists with three from wide midfield.

Goals from Barkhuizen and Callum Robinson ensured Preston continued their unbeaten run against Hull City in midweek, with their two strikes enough to ensure a 2-1 win at the KCOM Stadium.

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Black Cats in freefall as they follow last season's blueprint

Despite not being tipped to go straight back up following last season's disatrous showing in the Premier League, Sunderland were at least expected to be competitive in a division they have won twice since its name change in 2004.

So far however they have failed to do that, winning just once against Norwich in the second game of the season while their winless home run looks set to continue for the entirety of 2017 if recent showings are anything to go by.

The Black Cats suffered another thrashing at the hands of former boss Mick McCarthy's Ipswich Town in midweek, with former player Martyn Waghorn contributing to their downfall with one goal and two assists.

Thankfully for Grayson there are no former Sunderland players in Preston's side to come back to haunt them on Saturday, with Waghorn the third ex-Black Cat to net against them in their last four games.

Ex-Preston loanee Aiden McGeady has been one of the few players performing well in a red and white shirt this season with two goals and three assists to his name in seven appearances, with the Irishman getting on the scoresheet in their 5-2 defeat at Portman Road.

With Birmingham City's win over Sheffield Wednesday in midweek leaving Grayson's side second-bottom with the second-most goals conceded in the division, the former Preston boss could certainly do with a win against his old club to instill some confidence into his players.

Team news

The hosts are without defender Tom Clarke, left-back Greg Cunningham and midfielder Ben Pearson for Saturday's game with manager Neil admitting his side's high tempo playstyle "comes at the expense sometimes of some players getting a few niggling injuries."

Sunderland are still without long-term absentee Paddy McNair while Duncan Watmore has appeared for the club's under-23s in recent weeks and is nearing a return, although Saturday may come too soon for the winger to be involved. Young striker Josh Maja meanwhile is still nursing a knee injury.

Predicted line-ups

Preston North End (4-2-3-1): Maxwell; Earl, Davies, Huntington, Fisher; Browne, Johnson; Barkhuizen, Harrop, Maguire; Hugill.

Sunderland (5-4-1): Ruiter; Oviedo, Koné, Browning, Wilson, Jones; McGeady, Cattermole, Ndong, Gooch; Vaughan.

Championship