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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 14/02/04, 3.00pm
Preston North End
Colourfully unwell
By Matt Rowson

I've not been well this week.

In fact, one could go as far as to say that I've been quite dramatically and colourfully unwell. Gastroenteritis is not something I'd really wish on anybody... and whereas the usual lots of fluids/lots of rest/couple of necessary pills combo seemed to sort the problem out within a couple of days, my fun wasn't over. Such afflictions have the side-benefit of throwing my blood sugar control sideways as well... a bit like the effect of a comedy oil slick on participants in a "Wacky Races" cartoon.

So now I feel shit because my diabetes is well up the spout. It makes no odds in terms of immediate symptoms, of course... whether it's gastroenteritis or dodgy blood sugar, the bottom line is that I feel like crap and have done all week.

But bearing in mind that it is my diabetes that's causing me grief is perhaps no bad thing from another point of view. Because it's all too easy for me to forget that I do have a chronic problem, that the fact that I can keep myself going by jabbing myself four times a day, whilst a fantastic thing in itself and something that I'm enormously grateful for, does not make me like everybody else. Nor can I behave or pretend as if it does. Ho hum.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be talking about football. And what relevance a digression has that concerns itself with the importance of not permitting the illusion of everything carrying on as normal to fool one into thinking that one is working on a level playing field, and the importance of remembering that one's current shite state of affairs* might be a symptom of longer-term problems and mistakes rather than more recent and smaller mishaps, I've no idea.

So. Preston. On a bit of a roll, or so it would appear, following an eye-catching three-nil victory over West Bromwich Albion last weekend and a run that has seen them lose only twice since their victory against us at Deepdale - albeit once, memorably, in the Cup at Swansea City. And it's not as if we have a hugely successful record against the Lilywhites in any case... our last win home or away was in Division Two. Oh, and Heidar's missing. Nothing to lose, then...

The Deepdale game in November was actually one of our best performances of the season, albeit it didn't provide us with the point (definitely) or points (arguably) that it deserved to. One significant change in personnel on Saturday will see Ricardo Fuller, suspended for that earlier meeting, back in the fold. During his first appearance at Vicarage Road, as a loan signing with Palace in 2001, he looked clumsy and ineffectual. Not any more. Anything but. (I guess that's what playing for Palace does for you.) Craig Brown was by all accounts mighty relieved to see the transfer window close with his coveted star striker still at Deepdale.

Fuller will be partnered up front by the energetic but less prolific Richard Cresswell, with Northern Ireland international David Healy buzzing around annoyingly in a freeish role behind and around the front two. Big South African George Koumantarakis, who featured in Preston's far from impressive win in this fixture last season, is back in training following a hamstring problem but is looking at a place on the bench at best. Young Canadian Simon Lynch has just returned from a loan spell at Stockport, freeing Polish U21 striker Pawel Abbott, scorer in our game at Deepdale, to join Huddersfield for a month from Monday.

Craig Brown seems to favour a busy midfield... but will have to do without the formidable Dixon Etuhu, carried off early in Saturday's game and out for six weeks with ankle ligament damage. His place will be taken either by diminutive Irishman Michael Keane, who replaced him on Saturday, or former Celtic man Brian O'Neil, who returns from suspension. Keane looks to be the favourite after a man-of-the-match performance against West Brom, but neither has a reputation for consistently producing their best form.

Also in midfield will be American World Cup star Eddie Lewis and the long-serving Paul McKenna, whilst the lovable Graham Alexander appears to be playing a right-sided midfield role (as far as one can tell). The other option in the middle is Craig Burley, who has rolled up at Deepdale following a necessarily brief spell at Dundee. Frenchman Eric Skora is on loan at Kilmarnock, whilst the left-sided Lee Briscoe has yet to feature since his summer arrival from Burnley, although he's supposedly just a week or so away from full fitness.

Preston appear to be fielding three at the back, none of whom are regular skipper Chris Lucketti who has been out with a toe injury. This leaves former Manchester City trainee Tyrone Mears, former Blackburn man Marlon Broomes and Michael Jackson, who scored in this fixture two seasons ago (albeit in the "wrong" net). The enormous Jamaican Claude Davis could make it back from tendonitis problems in time for Saturday, but may not displace any of the three who did so well at the weekend. The experienced Paul Edwards is another option.

In goal, Jonathan Gould's doubts about a thigh injury led to his dropping to the bench at the weekend and a second league start for Preston for Andy Lonergan... whose first appearance, as a seventeen year old, was against us at Deepdale in 2001. So no putting him off by reminding him that he conceded a goal to Robert Page (titter). David Lucas, who has been on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, is out for a few weeks with medial ligament damage.

The first game of the rest of the season. Again. Against "the form team of the division". Again. We should have beaten them last week, mind... and the frustration at not being able to hold a lead against a side that had won six in seven shouldn't be confused with lingering despair from the Crystal Palace debacle. We'll be up for this, up for the points we should have had in November. And a win would make things look altogether healthier. Which just has to be a good thing, whatever our longer-term ailments.

* This week I have mostly been watching DVDs. Yes, including "Trainspotting".