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Of all the fixtures that they could have played on their return to action, Stoke would have been satisfied with a home encounter against bottom-of-the-table Derby.

However, not only did the Rams prove yet again that their position in the standings is a false representative of their form, their extra sharpness proved crucial as they claimed a 2-1 victory.

While criticising his team’s performance after the match, Michael O’Neill acknowledged that he hoped their lack of game time had been the decisive factor, and there are reasons to think that was the case.

Nevertheless, Stoke have now lost three of their last five matches in the Championship, an overall return of eight defeats from 23 games not the kind of form expected for a team pushing for the playoffs.

Just seven goals have been scored in their last eight outings, too, and O’Neill knows that is another aspect of their game which requires vast improvements.

Steven Fletcher is in line to be handed a recall to the Stoke XI, potentially as a replacement for Jacob Brown.

Sam Surridge may also come into consideration having not started a game for more than two months, while Tom Ince will hope that his goal versus Derby will earn him a rare opportunity from the opening whistle.

Of all of Stoke’s absentees, midfielder Jordan Thompson is the only player who may make a return to the substitutes’ bench.

Given the amount of coronavirus cases within the Preston squad, it is unclear which players are in contention to feature in the starting lineup.

Lowe will hope that he can pick the same team from three weeks ago, with Ryan Ledson also an option after impressing as a substitute versus the Tykes.

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Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Davies; Wilmot, Batth, Fox; Smith, Clucas, Allen, Vrancic, Tymon; Surridge, Fletcher

Preston North End possible starting lineup:
Iversen; Van den Berg, Bauer, Hughes; McCann, Browne, Whiteman, Earl; Johnson; Riis Jakobsen, Maguire

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