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Preston fans are worried about what Aiden McGeady might do - should Sunderland start him today?

In this week’s Fan Focus, Gary Bond of Lilywhite Magic is back to give us some insight from the other side ahead of Sunderland’s encounter with Preston this afternoon. There’s some advice on how to cope in League One, whether or not losing Jordan Hugill was a blow and some crack about the upcoming game.

Preston North End v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

RF: It hasn’t been a bad first season in charge for Alex Neil and it could well end with you finishing in the Play Off places. How do you rate your chances of making it into the top six come the end of the campaign?

GB: A few months ago, I would’ve rated our chances as nil but the players have really stepped up to the plate. Whilst we don’t play scintillating football, there has been some solid performances and some very impressive results.

We’ve had the return of key players, such as Maguire, and that’s been a huge boost. If we didn’t have him, I would’ve said we’d fall short of the play offs. Having him gives us a big chance, especially since Maguire has scored four goals in the last three games.

Wycombe Wanderers v Preston North End - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Alex Neil could conclude his first season as Preston manager with a Play Off place
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

RF: We’re staring down the barrel of League One at the moment, a division Preston experienced fairly recently. It took a few years but you managed to get back up and steady the ship, so what advice would you give to Sunderland as we look set to embark on a third tier adventure? Don’t say “appoint Simon Grayson” - we tried that and it really didn’t work out...

GB: First and foremost, a massive clear out. We had a lot of deadwood in our squad and we gradually got rid of them, even if it meant paying up their contracts. Granted, a lot of this work was carried out by that pillock Graham Westley but at least he cleared the rubbish out.

Having said that, from an outsider looking in, it seems the problems at Sunderland are much more deep-rooted than they were when we were staring League One in the face. There’s something very rotten there, as shown by the constant struggles you seem to have every season.

This starts at the top. In your case, the owner. It’s quite clear he doesn’t have the know-how to run a football club and seems totally disinterested. The sooner he leaves, the sooner you’ll start seeing green shoots of recovery.

RF: How big a blow was losing Jordan Hugill to West Ham in January? Have the likes of Sean Maguire been filling the void?

GB: It wasn’t as big a blow as some fans may have led you to believe! In fact, I don’t regard it as a blow at all. He always gave his all for the club and he was certainly a grafter but I think with him leaving, it’s actually freed us up a bit and we’re a bit more adventurous attacking-wise.

Sean Maguire has more than filled the void – since he came back, his performances have been superb and we look a lot more of a threat up front. Gone is the temptation to lump a few balls up field when we had Hugill!

Preston North End v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Jordan Hugill left PNE for West Ham in January but hasn’t been a huge miss for the Lilywhites
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

RF: Who should Sunderland fans be worried about in the PNE side?

GB: Quite simply, Sean Maguire. Four goals in his last three games tells you all you need to know and he turned the game around when we played Bolton. He’s a great finisher with superb composure in the box – certainly not one to panic when he’s under pressure from defenders.

RF: Aiden McGeady brought the ex-player curse to Deepdale last time out but he hasn’t been an automatic starter lately. Is he still the main worry for you amongst our sorry squad or is there anyone else you’ll be keeping an eye on?

GB: McGeady is still the main worry for us, well in my opinion anyway. As mentioned last time, I know what he can do and he always has a trick up his sleeve.

I can’t comment on how his performances have been for Sunderland overall, but he’s still one we have to be wary of and make sure not to give him much time on the ball.

Preston North End v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
Sunderland will need to keep Sean Maguire quiet if they’re to get any joy today
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

RF: How do you expect Alex Neil to approach the game would what do you think the starting line up will be?

GB: Alex Neil has practically the same approach to every game – to actually win it. He’s not one to think “a draw will be a great result”, he goes out to win no matter who the opposition are or where they are in the table. Obviously we won’t being going gung-ho but we hopefully we won’t invite pressure on ourselves.

The line up doesn’t change drastically that often however I expect there to be a couple of changes, especially if Greg Cunningham hasn’t recovered from last weeks injury.

Starting XI: Rudd, Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Woods, Pearson, Harrop, Robinson, Browne, Barkhuizen, Maguire.

RF: Can we have a score prediction to finish off please?

GB: Sunderland 1-2 PNE.