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Key Battles: Preston North End v Reading FC

A tough trip to Lancashire awaits in what is surely a must-win game. Here are the key battles.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
This man is Preston's top scorer so far this season.
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Jordan Hugill vs Paul McShane

Jordan Hugill, who was signed from League One side Port Vale, leads the line for the Lilywhites.

When I was looking at the players who have made a difference for Preston this season, Hugill is one of them. In 35 league appearances this season, the 24-year-old has hit the back of the net ten times, a huge improvement from the three goals he got in 2015/16.

Hugill is a very calm and composed striker - if he finds space near the goal, you can bet that the ball will hit the back of the net. Due to the height that the forward possesses, Hugill is also a great header of the ball which means he'll be a big threat in the aerial duels.

Jaap Stam only has a few out-and-out centre backs to choose from due to a number of injuries, with Liam Moore and Tiago Ilori both ruled out. Therefore, I expect Paul McShane to start alongside Tyler Blackett with Jordan Obita coming in at left back.

The Reading captain will be key if his side are to come away with three points, as the stats show that the Royals pick up much better results when he's playing.

With the former Hull man making over 270 league appearances, his experience will be key between now and the end of the season.

Aiden McGeady vs Chris Gunter

McGeady is another player that has made a real difference for his side. The 30-year-old is currently on loan from Everton and has proved to be an excellent signing for the Lilywhites.

The former Celtic man has scored four goals and has eight assists to his name in 2016/17 and the winger's impact has led to Preston making a unlikely play-off charge.

Furthermore, McGeady's performances have recently led to him being named Championship player of the month for February.

He can play on both sides of midfield and down the middle in a number ten role, meaning that Chris Gunter, Jordan Obita or Joey Van Den Berg may end up doing battle with the talented midfielder.

The Irishman can also be a tricky customer at times who's likely to cut inside unpredictably and get shots away.

The midfielder is also a brilliant crosser of the ball which is something that Jordan Hugil will look to exploit.

With that in mind Chris Gunter will have to be alert to stop McGeady from taking advantage down the left hand side in order avoid him from pulling the strings in his sides favour.

Greg Cunningham vs Garath McCleary

Another key battle will come down Preston's left flank, between Greg Cunningham and Garath McCleary.

Preston's left back has been ever-present this season, making 33 league appearances, being part of a side that has conceded 45 goals.

Like Chris Gunter for Reading, he loves to get forward and support Aiden McGeady. This is something that has led to the former Bristol City player getting one goal and five assists to his name this season.

With eight goals and eight assists in 2016/17, Garath McCleary has been one of the many bright spots in this Reading team.

The Jamaican has had a few quiet games in recent weeks, but did come close to nicking the win for his side against Newcastle when his shot hit the bar in injury time.

With Preston needing three points to keep their slim chances of reaching the play-offs alive, and Reading needing the win to solidify their position in the top six, I expect the game to be quite open with both sides looking to take the initiative.

This is why McCleary's speed and trickiness will be key assets, especially on the counter.