Preston North End manager Simon Grayson views the forthcoming ‘demanding’ schedule for the Lilywhites as being a crucial period of their season.
Tomorrow’s Deepdale clash with Port Vale (3pm) is the first of nine games in 29 days.
Grayson has the confidence in both the ability and depth of his squad to cope well with the busy spell, which includes four successive Tuesday night away matches.
“It is a demanding schedule but if we can come through it in a really healthy manner then it will be really positive for the rest of the season,” said Grayson.
“This is a good test for the players but we have been on a good run of form, so long may that continue.
“We have only lost once in the league this season, we are scoring goals – what we have to make sure of is that we are a bit tighter at the back.
“Port Vale tomorrow will be another tough game and that starts this schedule.
“Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Swindon and Oldham are four difficult midweek matches.
“There’s the home game with Fleetwood in there, a visit to Rochdale and also the FA Cup first round.
“You don’t get an easy ride with any game you are involved in and the players will have to be focused on what they need to do.
“With a schedule like this, you need everyone in your squad ready to play.
“There won’t be too many players who will play every minute of every game, so everyone will get some game time, I’m sure of that.”
PNE welcome back Scott Wiseman, Alan Browne and Callum Robinson following international duty for Vale’s visit. Attempts are being made to extend Robinson’s youth loan from Aston Villa.
Kevin Davies is close to a return to action after breaking a rib last month. If he is not quite ready for tomorrow, the striker will be in contention for the visit to Gillingham.
This is Preston’s second game against Vale in less than a fortnight, goals from Chris Humphrey, Joe Garner and Paul Gallagher delivering a 3-2 win in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy a week last Tuesday.
Humphrey has really found his form this season, while Gallagher’s displays have picked up during the four-game winning run.
Grayson said: “Chris is probably playing his best football for some years.
“The lad has worked hard on the training ground on getting into the areas where we think he can score goals and hurt the opposition.
“Chris saw himself as an out-and-out wide player on the touchline who goes past people.
“We wanted more from him and he has delivered.
“He is playing with a bit more freedom and is growing in confidence – that is a massive thing in football.
“Earlier in the season we felt Gally had not performed as well as he could do.
“The easy thing would have been to leave him out but I left him in because I knew he could rediscover his form.
“He looks far more fluid in his play, a lot more confident and is getting into some good areas around Joe Garner.”