PNE ace is cup’s top gun

Paul Gallagher celebrates scoring in PNE's replay at Sheffield United

Paul Gallagher celebrates scoring in PNE's replay at Sheffield United

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Paul Gallagher’s scoring statistics in the FA Cup for Preston suggest that he could emerge as a key figure in Monday night’s fifth-round clash with Manchester United.

The 30-year-old is the cup’s leading scorer with five goals going into the weekend.

Gallagher netted twice in the third-round victory over Norwich and then crashed in a 30-yard free-kick against Sheffield United at Deepdale.

In the replay with the Blades at Bramall Lane, he struck twice in a 3-1 win to help set up the tasty meeting with United.

He seems to have found an affinity with the FA Cup since joining the Lilywhites on loan last season.

His first goals in that loan spell were a hat-trick in the 6-0 hammering of Barnet in November 2013.

In doing so he became the first loan player to net a treble for North End

The five this season have followed, with him previously having only scored three times in the FA Cup in 20 appearances for former clubs Blackburn, Stoke and Leicester.

PNE manager Simon Grayson believes the North End fans have seen a more consistent Gallagher this term since re-joining in the summer on a season-long loan from Leicester. You can add five league goals and another in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy to his FA Cup haul.

Deepdale boss Grayson told the Evening Post: “Gally has got fantastic quality and he is clearly enjoying his football.

“We are getting good performances from him on a consistent basis and that is what we have been looking for.

“He is probably working harder than ever for the team.

“Last year Gally worked hard but this season he seems to have upped that level.

“He wants to play for the club, he feels comfortable and settled in his surroundings.

“In the summer he showed his intent by coming here when some Championship clubs wanted him.

“Gally has got goals and assists, playing in different positions – out wide, behind the striker or down the middle.

“You can see the range of passing he has and his quality on the ball.

“He has been a big player for us and it is those players who help you win matches.

“Hopefully Gally continues to come up with the assists and goals as the season goes on.”

Gallagher is the fifth highest goalscorer post-war in the FA Cup for North End.

Sir Tom Finney tops the chart with 23 goals in 39 games, Alex Dawson – who joined PNE from Manchester United – is next with 13 in 24.

Charlie Wayman netted 12 goals in 14 FA Cup ties and Tommy Thompson 10 in 20.

As well as the goals and assists, Gallager has not been shying away from challenges.

His yellow card late in the Chesterfield game on Tuesday night was his seventh of the season.

Gallagher has arguably been more effective when used in a central role.

That has been either supporting a lone striker or behind two front men, as he was at Chesterfield when Joe Garner and Kevin Davies played up top.

That said, Gallagher has delivered some quality crosses when used in wide areas, not least his cross for Davies’ winner against Coventry last Saturday.

For the United tie, it could well be that Grayson sticks with the 3-5-2 which worked so well in midweek.

That would match the system United have often played under Louis van Gaal and give Gallagher a central role.