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Newcastle can secure their top-flight return

Toon Army on the march

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez
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Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Monday

Newcastle have been stuttering towards the finish line in the Sky Bet Championship promotion race but they can finally complete the task with two games to spare by beating Preston at St James' Park.

United require two points to secure their Premier League return and they have a great chance to finish the job against a Preston side going through their worst run of the season.

It looked like the battle for automatic promotion was about to get interesting when Newcastle lost 3-1 at Ipswich on Easter Monday but Huddersfield fluffed their lines later in the day at Derby  before crashing to a 4-1 defeat at home to Fulham on Saturday.

Those dropped Huddersfield points have handed the Toon Army a great chance to claim promotion and they should snap it up.

Preston had been hoping for a strong finish to get in the battle for playoff places but have suffered three successive defeats and dropped out of the top ten for the first time since February.

Injuries and suspensions are not helping Preston's cause.

They are without three defensive regulars with captain Tom Clarke and Greg Cunningham injured and Alex Baptiste completing a three-game ban.

Energetic midfielder Ben Pearson is also suspended and the loss of four key players is tough to absorb for a team such as Preston, who place a strong emphasis on keeping a settled side.

They were all at sea during last week's 3-1 defeat at home to Norwich and it is unlikely to be any easier on Tyneside.

Newcastle were well below par at Ipswich and manager Rafa Benitez has to take his share of the blame after making five changes to the side who performed well in a 1-1 draw at home to Leeds.

Benitez will be reverting to his first-choice side although he cannot call on top scorer Dwight Gayle, who remains troubled by a hamstring strain.

Most sides in the second tier would miss a player of Gayle's ability but Newcastle haven't done too badly without the 26-year-old.

With Gayle they have collected 58 points from 31 games (an average of 1.87) and without they have taken 27 from 12 (an average of 2.25).

The sample size is too small to suggest that Newcastle are definitively a better side without their top scorer but Gayle's usual replacement, Aleksandar Mitrovic, is more adept at holding up the ball and bringing other attacking players into the game.

Mitrovic should score more goals but will give the weakened Preston rearguard a physical battle and could pave the wave for lively winger Matt Ritchie and buccaneering midfielder Jonjo Shelvey to make their mark in a match which could be won at a canter by the home side.

Newcastle -1 on Asian handicap
2pts 3-4 bet365

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Team news
Dwight Gayle (hamstring) is ruled out but Ciaran Clark (knee) is back in the squad after six weeks on the sidelines.

Tyias Browning is in contention after two months out with a knee injury but Alex Baptiste and Ben Pearson are suspended and Tom Clarke (Achilles) and Greg Cunningham (broken leg) are out long-term.

Key stat
Preston have conceded two goals or more in four of their last five away matches.

Preston had been hoping for a strong finish to get in the battle for playoff places but have suffered three successive defeats
E.W. Terms
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