North West Football League preview: Preston North End and Blackpool

Preston North End are keeping up the pressure on their promotion rival as they aim to end their 59-year absence from the English top flight this season.

Alex Neil’s men are unbeaten in their last five outings but face a tough test on Wednesday at Stoke City, who are undefeated on their own patch since November.

Preston are sixth in the Championship and there is a growing feeling among supporters that this could be the year when they finally make it to the top division.

North End last played at the top level in 1960/61 – 12 months after the late, great Sir Tom Finney retired – and haven’t been back since.

Around 500 fans are expected to make the trip to Stoke to support North End.

The Lilywhites remain without long-term absentees Billy Bodin, Louis Moult and Tom Bayliss.

There were no fresh injury concerns after their 2-1 win at Wigan on Saturday.

It’s an action-packed month for PNE with five more games to come, including tough away fixtures at promotion rivals West Brom and Fulham.

Neil’s side started the season strongly but after a blip at the end of 2019, they have been flirting with the final play-off position for weeks.

Both sides are facing different challenges this season, with Stoke fighting relegation. However, the Potters have begun to turn their season around in recent weeks and seem revitalised under manager Michael O’Neill.

They’ve won three of their last four games, and beat Charlton 3-1 last time out on Saturday – a result that moved them five points clear of the drop zone.

Meanwhile, in League One, Blackpool manager Simon Grayson will be hoping their win against Southend will help reignite their season as they face Gillingham at Bloomfield Road.

The 2-1 win saw the Tangerines end their barren run of 10 games without a win in all competitions after defeating Southend at the weekend.

It was a massive result for Grayson, who many thought might lose his job if the result had gone against them.

The Seasiders sit in 14th, 11 points off a play-off spot. It seems unlikely they could be dragged into a relegation battle – they are 15 points above the drop zone – so they will be looking to finish as high up the table as they can.