No favourites in play-offs – PNE boss

Tom Clarke
Tom Clarke
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Preston North End manager Simon Grayson views the play-offs as an even four-horse race which could ultimately be settled by a touch of ‘magic’.

The ‘favourites’ tag has been attached to PNE by some people as they prepare for tomorrow teatime’s semi-final first leg against Rotherham at Deepdale (5.15pm).

But Grayson is keeping a tin lid on any expectation with him seeing little between the four sides competing in League One’s end-of-season knockout.

What could turn the first leg against the Millers in North End’s favour is a red-hot atmosphere inside Deepdale.

Grayson wants as many home supporters in the ground as possible and has urged those tempted to watch on television to go for the live experience instead.

“I don’t think there are any favourites in the play-offs,” said Grayson.

“If you are going to go down that line of theory, then it would be the side who finished in third because they are theoretically the third-best team in the division over 46 games.

“Everyone is in there on merit – you don’t finish in the top six without having done a lot of good things over the course of the season.

“I wouldn’t put us down as favourites. We have a good opportunity but so have the others.

“There are four good teams who have been in the play-off position for two-thirds of the season.

“It will be about whoever gets the breaks, gets their top players to perform and gets that little bit of magic out of them.

“This week we have tried to keep things normal, the players have done their usual preparation both in the gym and on the pitch.

“They are excited because they know what could be around the corner.

“As a staff we have always encouraged them to enjoy what they are doing but keep them focused.

“We want them to try and seize the opportunity of being heroes of Preston North End this year.”

Tom Clarke is available again after missing the last two games with a slight calf strain.

While PNE will be keen to take a lead into the second leg in South Yorkshire on Thursday, Grayson says they will not be throwing caution to the wind tomorrow.

“In these situations I have always told my teams – and I’m sure all other managers say the same – just make sure you are still in the tie for the second leg, whether you’re home or away,” said the PNE boss.

“We won’t go out and play kamikaze football – we will play from our shape, make sure we give it a right good go to try and win the game.

“There is no point to try and get it all done in the first leg – Rotherham are too good a team to do that against.”

Grayson has urged the PNE fans to create a wall of noise in order to help his side’s cause.

He said: “If they can create a really intimidating atmosphere right the way through, it might give us an advantage.

“If anyone is half thinking about it, I would encourage them to come down, make some noise and enjoy it.

“This club is going in the right direction on and off the pitch – there is a unity.”

Fans who have pre-booked tickets are asked to collect them today to ease congestion at the ticket office tomorrow. It is open until 9pm tonight.