THE BIG MATCH

Preston North End's winning ways in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy have finally started to rub off in other competitions, a sour run of form turned around as they got the better of Hartlepool United in the FA Cup last weekend. 

Manager Phil Brown is optimistic about their chances of making it through their Northern section Area Semi-Final, as he explained to www.pne.com: "It is a fantastic game for everybody. It was nice to get back to winning ways and it is important that we compound that victory with another performance and another win regardless of what competition it's in."

North End will test the fitness of Canadian striker Ian Hume, despite manager Brown describing him as chances of playing as '50/50'. However, the return of Graham Alexander, with the additional possibility of both Ian Ashbee and 'keeper Iain Turner also coming into contention, will buoy fans.

The Lilywhite's run of form hasn't gone unnoticed by their semi-final opponents Chesterfield; this fixture ended 2-0 to Preston back in August. Assistant Manager Tommy Wright says the Spireites were surprised by the Lancashire club's poor performances but are definitely ready to go for Tuesday's game.

He told www.chesterfield-fc.co.uk: "We should be up for that; Preston will be up for that. But I do think, if we get a game going we can go there and get a result.

"We played them earlier in the season and they looked like a team that would be up there and we didn't expect them to go on a run like they have."

In their first season since promotion, Chesterfield haven't had the blessing of form and find themselves in the unenviable position of propping up the table, so Wright says the pressure is definitely still on outside the league: "Even last year when we were top of the league, the pressure's always on in football. But that's what these games are for, we've got the opportunity to get our season right on track and I'm sure the players will be ready to go."

Chesterfield have one fresh injury concern to add to their mounting list ahead of the game, with the announcement that midfielder Mark Randall has fractured his hand and will be out for six weeks.

KEEP AN EYE OUT

npower League 2 high-flyers Southend United will welcome Swindon Town to Roots Hall on Tuesday evening as both in-form clubs look to make the Southern section Area Final.

Southend have only dropped two points in their last six league games with Paolo Di Canio's Swindon only dropping four in the same period. Both teams also have a rather healthy goal difference and a winning reputation to uphold, neither losing a match in any competition since September.

Former Swindon player Barry Corr will miss out for Southend, having recently under-gone knee surgery. Michael Timlin picked up his fifth yellow card this season and will now serve a one-match suspension against his parent club.

Swindon will welcome back a suspended player of their own; striker Jake Jervis having sat out of Saturday's FA Cup victory over Colchester.

ELSEWHERE IN THE COMPETITION

League 2 strugglers Bradford City will face up to the seemingly mammoth test of Oldham Athletic in the first of the Southern section Area Semi-finals.

Despite Bradford having already beaten three clubs from League 1 to get to this stage, it's a test they'll have to take without their captain Michael Flynn, who picked up his fifth yellow this season at the weekend.

Bantams boss Phil Parkinson has suggested he may turn to the youth to take a step-up as both Chris Mitchell and Ritchie Jones miss out due to sickness, whilst Ricky Ravenhill is cup-tied. So youngster Luke Dean, a late substitute against AFC Wimbledon, could be handed his first start.

Oldham manager Paul Dickov will also be without his skipper, ex-Bradford loanee Dean Furman, as he too has collected five yellow cards this season. Apart from that, Dickov says a 'feel-good factor' is starting to emanate from the club following the FA Cup third round draw which put them up against Liverpool.

Another slight mismatch on paper completes this year's Southern section Area Semi-Finals, where struggling Barnet of npower League 2 will host Brentford; just outside the Play-Off places in League 1.

19-year-old Michael Hector has signed a month's loan extension at Barnet, he's been compared to a young Rio Ferdinand by boss Lawrie Sanchez and will look to make a difference before his return to Reading in January.

Barnet fans will be hoping Brentford continue on a run of results that could be described as inconsistent at best. Although they did humble AFC Bournemouth 6-0 in the last round of this very competition.

Click here for all the midweek action