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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 19/03/05, 3.00pm
Preston North End
An objective appraisal
By Matt Rowson

Bollocks to Preston.

Nothing against the Lilywhites, I should explain. One of the more likeable teams in the division, and a generally agreable place to watch football (being stuck in a traffic jam on the M6 during a heatwave notwithstanding). If they turn out to be the lucky holders of the last chair in the play-off shuffle, you won't find me complaining.

Still. Bollocks to Preston. Convention is that these previews kick off with some fairly arbitrary and only occasionally relevant digression that somehow meanders back to the point, or somewhere near it, before discussing our opponents' likely line-up, strengths and weaknesses. And actually it's the digression, the irrelevant bit, that takes all the time, but that's by the by.

Anyway, not today. Bollocks to Preston, not interested. Saturday is not about them, it's about us. Because despite three poor defeats on the hop from winnable games followed by the immensely frustrating draw with Leicester, there's still enough about this side for anyone in the division to worry about.

Take Richard Lee. Fine, fine young goalkeeper - you don't get England U21 call-ups, even in this age of Premiership (not Premier, not a ship) imports without having something about you. His single-minded assuredness is a blessing after Lennie Pidgeley's gradual collapse in self-belief last season.

Lloyd Doyley. Quicker than a very quick thing and the best defender at the club to boot. Ask Jason Roberts, probably still stamping around in a sulk having been marked out of Wigan's visit earlier in the season. Also possesses a staunch and potentially aggressive supporters club in Row SS of the Rookery, with or without glandular fever.

Jack Smith. Quietly capable, a solid option in what's been a problem position on-and-off. Welcome back to the team, Jack.

Jay Demerit. What a find. Imperious and bullish at the back, increasingly a threat from set pieces. Bang. Wallop. Fabulous.

Neil Cox. The voice of experience. The man who, as captain, had a significant role in the playing staff accepting a wage deferral two years ago that bought the club valuable gulps of air. A tower of strength, and a much better source of attacking passes than you get from yer average Division Two centre half.

James Chambers. Quick, aggressive and versatile. His double act with Doyley on the right held promise on Tuesday evening.

Gavin Mahon. The bulldozer in the middle of the park. Snarling and growling, stamping on any insolence from the opposing midfield, a vital cog in our attacking and defensive play. One of those belters is going to be goal of the season before long, too.

Brynjar Gunnarsson. Guile and grit, oil and granite. We've missed him big style during his injury absence.

Johnnie Jackson. Last game of an increasingly positive and successful loan. Snaps into tackles like a terrier, left foot you could paint portraits with. All the best, Johnnie.

Neal Ardley. Just how many goals have come from his crosses? If there's a better crosser of the ball in the division, I've not seen him. Doesn't half win a lot in the air, too.

Danny Webber. Slick, sharp, evasive. Could be ice skating when he runs with the ball. Hold a high line at your peril.

Heidar Helguson. Any defender's nightmare. Dion Dublin's face when he lost out in the air to H on Tuesday - despite three inches advantage - was a picture. Defend deep at your peril, human bodies are only theoretical obstacles.

A one-sided, slightly blinkered appraisal? Too bloody right. Bollocks to Preston and bollocks to criticism and objectivity. The above isn't far enough from the truth to make all other thoughts dismissable from three o'clock on Saturday. Bollocks to Preston.

Come on you 'Orns.