Former West Bromwich Albion favourites Richard Chaplow and Darren Carter will be intent on denting their old paymasters' title challenge when they line up tonight as part of a Preston North End side in a rich vein of form.
The Lilywhites thrashed Premier League strugglers Derby County 4-1 on Saturday to secure passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup, having defeated Watford at Deepdale in their last league outing. Consequently, Baggies manager Tony Mowbray is expecting a much tougher challenge than the one posed at The Hawthorns six months ago when his side cruised to a 2-0 victory.
"They have had a few lifts recently," conceded Mowbray last night. "They beat Watford at home and to score four against Derby is a big shot in the arm for them but we went to Peter-borough, who had scored eight in their last game, and beat them 3-0 so it is all about us, really. If we go to Preston and perform to the best of our ability, then we will give them a tough match."
Carter has hinted this week that he has a point to prove and said that Preston will be gunning for his former club in the same way as they went after Watford. But neither he nor Chaplow, who moved north as part of a £1million-plus deal earlier this month, has anything to prove to Mowbray.
"We did not let either of them go," he said. "I like both players a lot but they found themselves in and out of the team and, at this stage of their careers, they want to be playing every week. There was no guarantee of them doing that here.
"Ultimately, when the opportunity arose, both those players wanted to leave. I would have been more than happy to keep them at the club and help them develop but they were looking after their careers and we wish them well."
Albion's position as outright leaders of the Coca-Cola Championship was relinquished after they a made a mockery of those earmarking Saturday's FA Cup tie at London Road as a possible upset. Bristol City took the opportunity to close the gap with a win against Blackpool and, with 18 games of the season to go, it could not be tighter at the top.
"No-one seems to have pulled away from the pack," said Mowbray. "Watford did it early on, but I think it is very difficult to find the consistency in this league due to the number of games. It is hard to reproduce the level of quality that you need to win games when they come every few days.
"There's also not a lot separating the teams in this division. It won't be long before we are down to single figures in games and then they become massive."
Despite picking up a couple of injuries against Peterborough, Mowbray confirmed that a similar squad would be travelling to Lancashire.
On a more positive note the manager did have the luxury of withdrawing Jonathan Greening mid-way through the second half on Saturday. "I was conscious that he was on four bookings," said Mowbray.
"We need him to play in as many games for us as possible and, with the match won, there was no point in him staying on and getting a needless booking."
Meanwhile, Kevin Phillips has confirmed he wants to renew his contract at The Hawthorns as soon as possible.
The leading striker in the Coca-Cola Championship increased his season's tally to 17 goals with his second-half penalty against Peterborough and he now wants to commit his future to the club.
"My contract is up in the summer and I want to carry on," he said. "I hope we can sort it out. Some discussions have been ongoing and I would like to get it sorted, sooner rather than later."
"It's great to play in a team that creates chances. If you miss one, you'd better not let your head drop because there'll probably be another one along pretty quickly.
"I enjoy the manager's football philosophy. He wants us to play. I haven't had that for a couple of years, so the last two have been great."
Mowbray confirmed: "There have been some conversations but we will have to see how that develops. The club, the player and the agent need to come an agreement which is why sometimes these things drag out." ..SUPL: