Deepdale crowd can be 12th man for PNE in festive fixtures

NE fans support their side during the Lancashire derby with Blackburn Rovers earlier this month

NE fans support their side during the Lancashire derby with Blackburn Rovers earlier this month

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The Deepdale crowd can play a big part in Preston North End’s hectic Christmas schedule according to boss Simon Grayson.

PNE kick off their festive fixtures at home to Grayson’s former club Leeds on Boxing Day before another Yorkshire giant in Sheffield Wednesday make the trip across the Pennines the following Saturday on New Year’s Eve.

A trip to Burton then completes three games in seven days on January 2 with Grayson looking for a repeat of what he saw on home turf last year as North End swept aside Premier League-bound Hull City and Rotherham United.

“It can be the 12th man,” said the PNE boss.

“We showed that in the games at this time last year, we had Hull and Rotherham and we won both games.

“Looking at the Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds games, they’re just great games to be involved in.

“The atmosphere’s going to be electric on Boxing Day.

“It’s a good opportunity for us because we’re in good shape at this moment in time.

“If we can come out with some more points in this period it will set us up well for the rest of the season.”

Grayson will need his whole squad over the festive period with John Welsh and Paul Gallagher the long-term injury absentees.

Midfield enforcer Welsh has not played since coming off in the 2-2 draw at Brighton on October 15 after tearing a calf muscle.

Player and club had been optimistic about a swift return but it has no panned out that way.

Gallagher has a calf problem of his own having limped off after an hour of the goalless draw against Wolves back on November 19.

Grayson will however have Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle back after suspension following their clash at Sheffield Wednesday although the PNE boss has made it clear that an automatic return to the squad is far from guaranteed for either man.

Jordan Hugill has impressed up top for large parts of the season while Simon Makienok has scored two in his last two games against Nottingham Forest and Bristol City.

With three players already signed up ahead of the January transfer window, Dundalk’s Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan and former Morecambe winger Tom Barkhuizen, Grayson believes things are looking good on the squad front.

“Welshy was a bad calf injury and it’s taken him longer to recover than we probably thought,” said the PNE boss.

“He’s getting closer all the time and Gally’s very similar.

“You’ve just got to be careful that you’re not rushing players back for the sake of it.

“We’ve proved over the last few weeks that we’ve managed to cope without certain players and that’s credit to the rest of the squad that’s come in.

“When you get them back and we’ve got two players back from suspension suddenly added to the three that are coming in in January we’re looking in really good shape.”