Preston booked their place in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy northern area semi-final with penalty shoot-out success at Bury in midweek but reality could bite in stark fashion when they come up against the next team standing in their path on the road to Wembley.
North End travel to Coventry
in League One on Saturday and it's a sizeable task made no easier by how much
they channelled into the game at Gigg Lane on Tuesday. The Sky Blues are
motoring along just nicely, winning eight of their last 11 matches, and they
look a solid bet to take the spoils at odds of 5/4.
Mark Robins' men were outstanding at Doncaster last weekend, dominating from start to finish as they put four goals past the team who started the day in second spot. Ordinarily, we'd be wary of what comes next after such a stellar performance but it was hardly a flash in the pan.
The Midlanders have been building up a head of steam for several weeks and what strikes most is the refusal of several players to get carried away when interviewed by local reporters. Nobody is waxing lyrical about what's happened and there are no wild predictions about the future, everyone is just enjoying their football.
It's an attitude that probably stems from the fact that many of the key performers have been acquired on loan deals and January promises to be an interesting month as Robins looks to tie-down the likes of David McGoldrick, Franck Moussa, James Bailey and Blair Adams to longer deals.
McGoldrick is the real sensation, though, with 15 goals in 18 league starts since on a temporary move from Nottingham Forest and the Sky Blues are bound to be facing fierce competition for his signature when the window reopens on January 2. McGoldrick is noncommittal but his new colleagues are working hard behind the scenes in persuading him to stay.
We would have had a few reservations about Coventry's home record, which has been dodgy ever since they moved into the sparsely-populated Ricoh Arena, but those fears have been eased somewhat by an emphatic 5-1 win over Walsall that came at our expense a fortnight ago.
Slowly but surely, Robins is pulling down the psychological barriers that have held back all previous signs of progress and though the starting XI might look rather different in the New Year, it's fair to assume Coventry are now officially a club on the mend.
You could argue Graham Westley has made even greater progress at Preston given the lack of co-operation he was granted by the players he inherited from three different regimes when walking through the door last January. He has done the bulk of his long-term rebuilding work already but short-term league form is a problem.
With Keith Keane and Scott Laird both sidelined by long-term injuries in the last month, you get the impression this is now turning into a season of consolidation for the Lancashire club even though they only trail their hosts by a point.
All of which means the knockout competitions now take on added significance and we have a sneaking suspicion that, privately, Westley might be treating this game as a dress rehearsal ahead of next month's JPT return when respective transfer business means he might be better equipped to emerge triumphant.
2pts Coventry to beat
Preston at 5/4 (Bet365, Bet Victor)
Sky Blues can continue blistering league form against a North End team sidetracked by cup exploits.
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