THE BIG MATCH

There's an all-npower League 1 affair in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Area semi-finals as Coventry City host Preston North End on Thursday.

With both teams sitting in mid-table in the division, Coventry in 12th and Preston in 15th, with just three points between them, it's likely to be a tight affair at the Ricoh Arena.

The two sides could mount a push for the Play-Off places in the latter half of the campaign, but success in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy is in sight, and a win in this tie would take one team a step closer to a day out at Wembley.

Both sides were involved in the FA Cup at the weekend and were on the end of defeats - Coventry losing 3-0 against Tottenham Hotspur and Preston going down 1-0 at Millwall - so will want to bounce back.

Sky Blues attacker Gary McSheffrey believes manager Mark Robins may well have a selection headache for the tie against Preston, after their second-half substitutes against Spurs impressed.

"I thought Flecky [John Fleck] did really well," McSheffrey told the Coventry Telegraph, "and Conor [Conor Thomas] was like a breath of fresh air - fearless when he went on - so the manager's got some big decisions to make.

"That's good for him [Mark Robins] because the more competition the better."

It will be the second time Graham Westley's team has visited the Ricoh Arena in under a month, after they came away with a point on December 22nd with a 1-1 draw.

That result extended Preston's unbeaten run against the Sky Blues to eight matches, with the last Coventry win against North End coming in September 2007.

Versatile player Jack King could provide cover at right-back for the injured Keith Keane and John Mousinho, and King is hoping the team can bounce back from their loss at the Den.

"So far this season we have been good at reacting to defeat and hopefully we can do that again," King told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.

"We played well at Coventry before Christmas in the league and probably should have won that game.

"Although the league is our primary concern this season, the Trophy is a nice distraction and we're looking forward to this one."

KEEP AN EYE OUT

Leyton Orient manager Russell Slade welcomes his former club Yeovil Town to the Matchroom Stadium on Tuesday night, as the two go head-to-head in the Southern Section semi-finals.

Slade, who managed the Glovers between 2006 and 2009, is overseeing a mediocre season with Orient so far in npower League 1 as they sit 16th, but the Johnstone's Paint Trophy gives them a real chance to success.

Their opponents, Yeovil, are five points better off in the League 1 standings and will be confident having put three past the O's without reply on New Year's Day, although they lost 4-1 on their last visit to the Matchroom Stadium, back in September.

The Glovers have a large following heading to London with the club putting on free coach travel, and Johnson believes it could give his players a lift.

"The support has gone well beyond our wildest dreams, if we're getting 700-800 people - that's a proper away crowd," Johnson told the Western Gazette.

"Even if the home support is three, four, or 5,000 they don't all sing at the same time but our seven or 800 will.

"That will give us the support worthy of being at home and what I'm hoping is that it all comes right for us - that support, that noise in our favour, that'll help our boys.

"We've prepared properly," he added. "We've had time to prepare properly and now is the time. As a management team, we know that we can't do any more, so now it's up to the players.

"We got beat by them down there earlier in the year and they'll have a revenge mission on their minds [after Yeovil's New Year's Day victory], so we've got be ready for that."

Orient boss Slade is mindful of that 3-0 defeat when looking ahead to the Area semi-final.

He wants his side to progress in the competition, though, telling Orient Player: "We've got a very strong task ahead of us because it's not too long ago that they beat us 3-0.

"We've got them at home so we have that advantage, I know there are a lot of Yeovil fans coming down for the game so it promises to be a good cup tie with a good atmosphere and we'll be looking to make sure we do very, very best to get through."

ELSEWHERE IN THE COMPETITION

Also on Tuesday night, Oxford United host npower League 2 counterparts Southend United.

Southend are five points better off than the U's in the npower League 2 table but Oxford won the meeting between the two earlier in the season, with a 2-0 scoreline, so will be confident, particularly in front of their home crowd at the Kassam Stadium.

While Oxford's FA Cup involvement ended at the weekend with a 3-0 loss to Sheffield United, the Shrimpers managed a 2-2 draw with Brentford, bringing their run of two successive defeats to an end.

The other tie of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Area semi-finals comes in the Northern Section next week, January 15th, when this season's cup specialists Bradford City visit npower League 1 side Crewe Alexandra.

The Bantams have reached the last four of the Capital One Cup and will want to maintain their cup momentum in the Trophy, when they travel to the Alexandra Stadium.

Crewe, meanwhile, will be upbeat as they are on a relatively good run in npower League 1 and sit just outside the Play-Off places. They have also beat the Bantams in three of the last four meetings between the two, including the most recent - a 1-0 win in March last year.

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