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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Preston's playoff push can gather pace against Sheffield United

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Preston's Daniel Johnson
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English Football League
Kick-offs 3pm Saturday

Preston v Sheffield United
Preston have been flying under the radar in the battle for Sky Bet Championship playoff places but they can climb to within two points of the top six by beating Sheffield United at Deepdale.

Alex Neil's side lost four games in succession when they were suffering from a lengthy list of injuries in late October and early November.

But they have been healthier in recent weeks and North End's results have improved. They have taken ten points from the last four matches and have a great chance to close in on the top six with home games against Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest on their pre-Christmas schedule.

With almost half of the season gone, the promoted Blades can be delighted to have established themselves as promotion contenders.

But they are going through a rough patch with one point from their last four games and it has coincided with the broken leg suuffered by key midfielder Paul Coutts.

The midfield hasn't been functioning as well without him and the pressure told on John Fleck, who was sent off during the second half of last Friday's 2-1 loss at home to Bristol City after a making a wild challenge on Korey Smith.

With Fleck suspended the Blades will be even more unbalanced in the middle of the park and Preston can take advantage.

2pts 7-5 Hills

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Gillingham v Bristol Rovers
Sky Bet League One strugglers Gillingham have been expensive to follow in home league games, winning one out of ten, but they look a shade overpriced to topple Bristol Rovers.

Back-to-back wins have lifted Rovers seven points clear of the drop zone and to within eight points of the playoffs and they were hugely impressive 3-0 victors at home to Southend last Saturday, winning the shot count 23 to three.

But it can be dangerous to read too much into a single match and Rovers' status as warm favourites looks questionable.

At no stage this season have Rovers won more than two league games in a row and the last time they were convincing winners (beating Northampton 6-0 in October) they followed up with three successive defeats.

Gillingham slipped back into the drop zone with a harsh 2-1 defeat at Plymouth last Saturday but it was their first loss in six league matches.

Since Steve Lovell moved into the dugout in October they have looked a much better side and they are playing with more attacking intent.

Home wins will need to start flowing if they are to get out trouble and they can make a start by plundering three points from the Pirates.

1pt 5-2 Hills

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Forest Green v Luton
Luton's recent five-match winning run came to an end with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at home to Sky Bet League Two title rivals Notts County last weekend but the Hatters remained top of the pile and they can stay there by justifying odds-on favouritism against lowly Forest Green in Gloucestershire.

In terms of goalscoring potential, Luton are in a class of their own in the fourth tier.

They have notched 49 league goals, 11 more than anyone else, and have two reliable strikers in James Collins (eight goals in 18 league games) and Danny Hylton (12 from 19).

Forest Green know they are going to be stretched and their powers of resistance are reduced by the absences of suspended defenders Dale Bennett and Emmanuel Monthe.

2pts 4-7 general

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Rochdale v Oxford
Oxford have climbed up to eighth place in League One without any great fanfare and they can edge closer to the playoffs by beating Rochdale at Spotland.

Rochdale play some nice football but have won four of 20 league matches this season and look short-priced favourites.

All of Dale's league wins have come at home but they could struggle against Oxford, who have achieved two wins and a draw from their last three road trips.

Oxford draw no bet
1pt 13-8 Hills

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Oxford have achieved two wins and a draw from their last three road trips
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