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Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Preston North End

Sports Mole previews Saturday afternoon's Championship meeting between unbeaten Brighton & Hove Albion and a potentially rejuvenated Preston North End.

Brighton & Hove Albion play host to Preston North End on Saturday afternoon looking to maintain their lead at the top of the Championship table.

The Lilywhites ended a prolonged winless run in their last outing, while the home side have yet to taste defeat in the league so far this campaign.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Bobby Zamora of Brighton celebrates with team mates after scoring during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Bristol City at Amex Stadium on October 20, 2015 in Brighton, England© Getty Images

A quarter of the season now played and it is Brighton who have proved to be the most consistent side so far, which is some doing in this most unpredictable of divisions.

Victory over Bristol City in midweek was enough to open up a six-point gap between themselves and third place, with those around them slipping up on a regular basis.

What was most impressive about that triumph over an ever-improving Robins side was the way in which Chris Hughton's men recovered from going a goal down to claim all three points, with the winner coming late on via fan favourite Bobby Zamora.

That goal pretty much summed up life for the South Coast outfit so far this season, as the summer recruit maintained the feel-good vibe around The Amex with his first home strike since returning to the club.

Incredibly, Brighton have yet to taste defeat so far this term in their 12 games, while going further back into last season it is 13 without defeat in league competition.

Hughton has repeatedly attempted to play down talk of finishing in the top two this season, suggesting that even challenging for a playoff place is something to be proud of following last season's struggles.

One thing that can certainly be said of the Seagulls so far is that they are efficient, in the sense that every win so far has come by a one-goal margin.

Brighton can also hold claim to having the best home form in the division, perhaps unsurprisingly for a team sitting top of the league table itself, which leaves opponents Preston with an almighty task.

Recent form in Championship: WDDDWW

Preston North End

Manager Simon Grayson of Preston North End applauds the fans after the FA Cup Fifth round match between Preston North End and Manchester United at Deepdale on February 16, 2015© Getty Images

Just when the pressure was starting to build, with nine games without a win, Preston managed to record an impressive 3-0 victory at fellow strugglers Charlton Athletic last time out.

In fairness to the Lilywhites, they also held Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers to draws during that run, while claiming a spirited 1-1 draw in a crucial match at Ashton Gate prior to the recent international break.

It was the win in South London that certainly renewed belief, though, showing signs of the attacking capabilities that they are capable of in the second tier.

Paul Gallagher scored twice in the first half before Daniel Johnson extended his goals tally to six for the season, but despite the rout North End are still among the division's lowest scorers.

In fact, only Bolton Wanderers have scored fewer than Preston's 10 goals so far, with goals ultimately proving to be at a premium in the months since their promotion from League One.

Out of the relegation zone they may now be, yet it is a huge week ahead for Simon Grayson's men with the league's top and bottom sides to face in the space of seven days.

The small matter of a nine-game league run without success is also in the past, so there may be a fresh feel to the Lilywhites as they make the trip to face a side they have fared well against in recent times.

Grayson has kept his players in the South since their midweek win over Charlton in an attempt to further improve team chemistry, while also saving on travelling time, and they could just surprise a few when taking on the early pacesetters.

Recent form in Championship: DLDLDW
Recent form (all competitions): LLDLDW

Team News

Gordon Greer of Brighton and Hove Albion during the npower Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Brighton and Hove Albion at City Ground on March 30, 2013© Getty Images

Brighton captain Gordon Greer sat out Tuesday's meeting with Bristol City due to a knee injury, so he will require a late fitness check.

Kazenga LuaLua proved to be a key player in the opening weeks of the campaign and, having missed the last month, he is nearing a return to action.

Despite scoring two in two from the bench, Zamora is expected to be among the subs once more when Preston come calling, but Beram Kayal is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card.

As for the visitors, they will welcome a player back from his ban as Joe Garner returns to the first-team fold, though Grayson may opt to stick with a winning formula following the resounding win at The Valley.

Elsewhere, Paul Huntington and skipper Tom Clarke are both likely to be fit enough to play some part, with the former making his comeback off the bench last time out.

Brighton & Hove Albion possible starting lineup:
Stockdale; Bruno, Dunk, Hunemeier, Bong; Rosenior, Stephens, Crofts, March; Baldock, Hemed

Preston North End possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Virmijl, Wright, Woods, Cunningham, Reach; Gallagher, Johnson, Brown; Hugill, Doyle

Head To Head

Brighton have won just one of their last eight meetings with Preston in all competitions, losing four of those games.

The away side in this fixture has failed to score in each of the last four encounters, while the Seagulls have scored only once against their opponents in the last five matches.

The last Brighton player to score in this fixture, in fact, was Steve Sidwell in 2002 during a loan spell from Arsenal.

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We say: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Preston North End

Sometimes quirky stats like the one above simply cannot be ignored, but it would be a real shock to see Brighton slip up at the weekend. Preston may have ended their winless run in the week, yet they come up against a Seagulls side still without defeat who have their sights firmly set on maintaining their place at the summit.

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