THE BIG MATCH

Preston North End boss Graham Westley returns to his former club Stevenage in npower League 1 this weekend as the two sides go head-to-head at the Lamex Stadium.

Since Westley's departure in January, Gary Smith - his replacement at Stevenage - has maintained the momentum at the Hertfordshire club, which came from two successive promotions under Westley's guidance.

Smith's men are now on course for another promotion push, sitting third on 32 points after 16 games. Despite the obvious connections, the 44-year-old Stevenage boss insists the clash at the weekend is just another match for him.

He told the Comet: "The weekend is a big one for the fans, but for me it's no bigger than any other week. And for the vast majority of the players it's no different to any week that goes by.

"We've got three or four players that played under Graham but I think that slowly moves on but I'm sure the fans will do the usual thing of getting at him from the other side of the pitch."

The former Colorado Rapids manager watched his side get back to winning ways in midweek with a 3-1 away triumph at Yeovil Town, following a League 1 loss to Swindon Town and an FA Cup exit at the hands of npower League 2 side Rotherham United.

They now have a run of tough games, against Sheffield United, Bournemouth and current leaders Tranmere Rovers, after this weekend's reunion with Westley.

"To get back on track after going out of the cup is great and another three points on the road with a great win is not to be scoffed at, and if we can just pull that home form around then who knows what's in store for us.

"The points are the most important thing right now. This is another win under our belts and we move forward."

Preston currently sit 10th in the standings but three points could take them within touching distance of the Play-Offs.

They will travel to the Lamex Stadium with their tails wagging, too, after two wins and two draws in their last four.

Manager Westley told www.pnefc.net: "Our mentality is a champion mentality. We go into games full of confidence in ourselves, full of confidence in our abilities. We know we are learning and evolving and we don't want to use that as an excuse and we are working to be the best team in this league.

"We went to Tranmere and looked at them as a side that was there to be beaten and we will go there on Saturday looking at them [Stevenage] as a side that is there to be beaten and provided we get our game right and we put in place enough of the lessons we have already learned, then I am sure we will win the game."

KEEP AN EYE ON

There's another reunion in npower League 1 this weekend as Danny Wilson takes his Sheffield United side to fellow promotion-hopefuls Milton Keynes Dons, a side he managed between 2004 and 2006.

The Blades remain as The Football League's only unbeaten side this season and they will hope to continue that run when they visit stadiummk. They will also want to regain top spot, which they held for 24 hours in midweek until Tranmere Rovers beat Hartlepool United on Wednesday evening to move back to the summit.

Interestingly, the Dons were the last side to beat Sheffield United in normal time - seven months ago - but Wilson insists his side aren't focussing on the undefeated run.

"We don't talk about the run at all," the 52-year-old told the Sheffield Star. "In fact, I couldn't tell you the number of games it has been [since a loss] because we focus on the next game, not ones that have gone by. But if the lads have done well they deserve recognition.

"What's going to happen down there? I don't know. But I'm not worried about it. MK will look at opening the pitch up and getting the ball down. The contrast in styles between them and our last opponents [Swindon] will be huge because they were very, very direct.

"Can we cope with that? The question you've also got to ask is, can they cope with us?"

Karl Robinson's side currently sit outside of the Play-Off places, in eighth, but they will be eager to get back into the top six.

After five winless games in October, they have now recorded back-to-back league victories with a 3-0 success against Scunthorpe United and 1-0 win over Leyton Orient.

Striker Ryan Lowe scored the only goal of the game against Orient, and, being an ex-Sheffield Wednesday player, he has fond memories of playing against the Blades.

The striker told www.mkdons.com: "I played against them [Sheffield United] for Sheffield Wednesday last year and obviously being a derby there was a tremendous atmosphere.

"There was a good rivalry between the two clubs and so I will probably get a bit of stick off them for being an ex-Wednesday player but I relish that and hopefully, if I get selected, I'll do what I've been doing in the last two games.

"If you want to be in the mix and you want to be pushing on then you've got to do well against these teams. And, if we can keep putting performances in like we have then who knows. I think there's a thrashing on the line soon and it'd be brilliant to do it on Saturday."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

Table-toppers Tranmere Rovers will want to remain at the summit this weekend as they travel to Oldham Athletic.

The Rovers overcame rock-bottom Hartlepool United 2-0, their first win in four matches, to reclaim the position they have held for the majority of the season but the Latics will want to put a dent in their hopes of staying at the top of the pile. Paul Dickov's men come into the match off the back of a 2-1 loss to lowly Bury, though.

Hartlepool will be looking to bounce back from that defeat to the leaders as they make the long journey south to play Gary Johnson's Yeovil Town.

Bury, Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town occupy the other three places in the relegation zone.

The Shakers host Portsmouth, who are without a manager after Michael Appleton's departure to Blackpool, Scunthorpe United visit Coventry City after a 4-1 midweek win over Walsall, while the 21st-placed Shrews travel to Leyton Orient, who sit 20th, just outside the relegation zone.

That win for Scunthorpe over the Saddlers was their first in eight matches and it extended Walsall's winless run to seven games. Dean Smith's men are back at home this weekend, against Swindon Town, and will need to arrest their slide in form if they are to avoid being sucked into a battle at the foot of the division.

Sixth-placed Doncaster Rovers slipped to a defeat against Crewe Alexandra in midweek, ending their run of three consecutive victories, and they will look to get back on track at home to in-form Bournemouth. The Cherries have been revitalised under the stewardship of Eddie Howe having won four of their last five to sit 12th.

Crawley Town and Notts County take up the other two Play-Off places and they go head-to-head at Meadow Lane this weekend.

The remaining matches in npower League 1 see Crewe host Colchester United and Carlisle United travel to Brentford.

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