PNE bid to be right in thick of it

Jermaine Beckford is back from his ban
Jermaine Beckford is back from his ban
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Simon Grayson knows a good seven days over Christmas and New Year will see his Preston North End side in the thick of things at the right end of the Championship.

After picking up seven points in a week of pre-festive fixtures against Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City, the PNE boss will be looking for more of the same from Boxing 
Day.

North End, 11th in the Championship table and five points outside the play-offs, host Leeds at Deepdale before Sheffield Wednesday head across the Pennines on New Year’s Eve.

Preston then travel to Burton Albion to kick off 2017 on January 2.

“We had a good week last week and if we can accumulate seven points out of the next three games and keep doing that, then come the end of the season we aren’t going to be far away from the top six,” said Grayson.

“But we don’t get ahead of ourselves.

“We’re making sure we are fully prepared for the Leeds game and then the Sheffield Wednesday game and Burton after that.”

Jermaine Beckford and Eoin Doyle are available to return on Boxing Day after suspension following their spat at Sheffield Wednesday at the start of the month, with the former hoping to be in the squad to face his former club.

The Leeds game marks the halfway point of the league season with PNE on course to improve on their 11th-placed finish on their return to the second tier in the 2015-2016 campaign.

It is pretty good going considering Grayson saw his side lose five of their first six games this time around.

“When you look at the teams around you, below you, there are some big teams who have spent a lot more money on wages and transfer fees than we have,” said the Lilywhites boss.

“But what you can’t underestimate at this football club is the togetherness of the group and the younger players that we’ve brought in with little money are really progressing and working really hard and making a major impact.

“As a football club we’re progressing, as a group and as a team we’re progressing and given the poor start we had when people were writing us off, we’re not doing too 
bad.”

Reaching the top 10 would be a fantastic achievement according to Grayson, who has been impressed by the development of his squad and the club as a whole in 2016.

“Last season it was very competitive and it’s even more so this year,” he said.

“You’ve got to take small steps at the right times and I think we’ve done that. We’ve not tried to get ahead of ourselves.

“We’ve not gone and signed a load of players on big money thinking we’re going to get somewhere we can’t get to but, also, we haven’t got the finances to do it.

“We have gone along very nicely and under the radar I think.

“Outside of Preston, people won’t be taking too much notice of where we’ve come from.”