Exclusive Sean Gregan column

Preston players troop off the Broadfield Stadium pitch after their 2-1 defeat to Crawley
Preston players troop off the Broadfield Stadium pitch after their 2-1 defeat to Crawley
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Perhaps you could see Preston North End’s defeat against Crawley coming, given the run of form which they have been on in January.

Confidence, or a lack of it, can only be behind such a dip as it is mainly the same group of players in the team as it was when PNE were putting a good run together.

I remember when I played at Leeds. They had an away game live on Sky Sports against a Rotherham side who had not won for 24 games.

Rotherham went and won 1-0, turning their form on its head – that is very similar to what happened to North End at the weekend.

This is the time when you need the big characters in the dressing room to come to the fore – not just in a game but from Monday to Friday at the dressing room.

PNE have characters like that in the squad, some of them have experience in the Premier League, so their input at this time is vital.

It will be all about a chat in the dressing room, a few words on the pitch at the right time.

Recent results are bound to see a clamour from fans to bring Joe Garner back into the side sooner rather than later.

He cannot be too far away now but it is vital that Garner only comes back when he is 100% fit and ready.

You don’t want a situation when the lad comes back in and pulls a muscle because he is just a percentage or two below full fitness.

The injury itself will be healed fully but when you’ve been out for a decent amount of time, it is secondary injuries and niggles which you need to avoid picking up.

I’m sure Simon Grayson will handle it right – he has been round the block a few times and will have been in similar situations.

He and the medical staff will be in liaison about when is the right time for Garner to come back.

With or without Garner, North End have to find their form again quickly.

The gap between them and the teams above is quite a big one and they cannot afford to see it grow.

It is of course back to the FA Cup on Tuesday for the replay against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Everyone knows what the likely prize is for the winners and there is no greater incentive than to have a home tie against Manchester United in the fifth round.

There won’t be much of a team-talk needed before the replay – just point out what will follow if you win.

Getting through to host United in the next round in front of a packed house and the cameras would be superb.

But given Preston’s form and that of Sheffield United of late, it could be a tough night.

You could not help but be impressed by how well the Blades played against Spurs last week in the Capital One Cup semi-final.

Had it not been for a bit of brilliance from Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, it could have been United going to Wembley.

Bramall Lane is a big, old, intimidating place when it is full, something North End will have to get to grips with.

I’m sure United start as big favourites with being at home and the form they’ve been in.

But could that work in PNE’s favour? There was not much expectation on Crawley on Saturday but they won.

Finally, while North End were having a rough old time against Crawley, things were not great for Darlington, who I help coach.

We lost 2-0 at Salford, had two players sent off as well as having the manager and his assistant sent to the stands!