Predicting Tony Mowbray’s team hasn’t been the easiest exercise during his four-year tenure, but as it was at Luton Town on Saturday, it is hard to look beyond the expected XI for the trip to Preston North End.

With Joe Rankin-Costello out with another hamstring strain, Ryan Nyambe, who has seemingly overcome a groin issue that troubled him in the international break, is expected to slot in at right back. Nyambe has had a lot of success against North End, instrumental in the first half of last season's Deepdale meeting, and he was Rovers’ main attacking outlet in the 2018 meeting.

In midfield, a fifth yellow card for Bradley Johnson at Luton Town will rule him out of tonight’s game. However, that will coincide with a return to full fitness of Lewis Holtby who has struggled with illness of late, seemingly a straight swap there.

With seemingly no fresh issues, or players returning, those appear to be the most likely alterations for the trip to Deepdale, where Rovers will be searching for a first win over North End in eight attempts.

Yet history would suggest that Mowbray may well have a surprise up his sleeve.

Interestingly, there have been just occasions since *that* appearance at Sheffield United in December 2018, that changed everything for Lewis Travis, that he has been an unused substitute.

Both have been against Preston, including the Deepdale defeat of November 2019. He played the full 90 minutes in the nine games that followed, and had started the 1-0 defeat to Birmingham City four days earlier, as Mowbray opted to ring the changes in central midfield.

Both Travis and Bradley Johnson were dropped from the side, with Elliott Bennett, who had been playing at left back, moved into central midfield as Amari’i Bell returned, with Corry Evans his partner.

That was only a second start of the season for Evans, and a rare appearance in central midfield for Bennett. It was a tactic that looked to be working as Rovers raced into a 2-0 lead, only for a second half surrender seeing them beaten 3-2.

There are more central midfield issues for Rovers ahead of this one, with Johnson suspended, Evans and Travis out injured, leaving Mowbray without three of his most defensively-minded midfielders.

That will likely mean Tom Trybull will have to assume that responsibility, but a more central role should suit him more than the wider one we saw him occupy at Luton Town where he looked uncomfortable.

The Deepdale defeat of November 2019 is also the last time Rovers made fewer than two substitutions in a game, Mowbray not turning to his bench until the final eight minutes, as after going 3-2 down, he threw on Danny Graham.

Graham was also turned to from the bench in the November 2018 meeting in which Rovers were beaten 4-1. Then he was sent on at half-time, with Rovers trailing 2-0.

He had something of an immediate impact, heading Rovers back into the game, only to go onto lose 4-1.

There appears no doubt that Adam Armstrong will play up front tomorrow night, but while he was in the starting line-up in 2018, it was surprisingly Kasey Palmer who played in the most central striking role.

So Mowbray has been known to throw a curveball or two in the past, but it would likely be an even bigger surprise should he move away from the expected XI.

Other things to look out for are penalties. In the last eight meetings between the two sides there have been five awarded.

Tom Barkhuizen and Daniel Johnson just seem to love playing against Rovers, the former scoring four times in five appearances, the latter netting the same number from one more match, including a penalty last season.

Also worth noting is Alex Neil’s record against Rovers. He was sacked by Norwich on the eve of their meeting with Rovers in March 2017, but did win his two matches against them during his time with the Canaries.

At PNE, he was taken 10 points from a possible 12, so is undefeated in his six meetings as a manager against Rovers.

While Rovers will need to overcome the statisticians and recent history (no wins in their last seven meetings) to overcome North End, they have the quality to the hosts, not least in the forward areas.

Rovers have previously hit Preston at the wrong time, when out of form and without key personnel. While they do have selection headaches, they are unbeaten in their last three, shown a stronger defensive resolve and have a host of players that North End will be wary of.

It would be remiss not to mention the absence of the bank of away fans that would have undoubtedly added to the sense of occasion, North End v Rovers under the lights would have been one marked down on the calendars when the fixtures came out as one fans would have given anything to attend.