PNE need show of steel

Paul Gallagher will be pushing to return to the Preston side

Paul Gallagher will be pushing to return to the Preston side

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Preston North End’s early-season form will be put to the test in their League One heavyweight battle with Sheffield United at Deepdale tomorrow.

The bookies fancy PNE and the Blades to be among the front-runners for promotion, and the Roses clash has the potential to be an exciting one.

After making seven changes for the Capital One Cup tie at Middlesbrough in midweek, Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson looks likely to revert back to the group of players which played the opening set of league games.

Regulars Joe Garner, Paul Gallagher and Calum Woods were left on the bench at Boro, while Bailey Wright missed the game in order to rest a groin niggle.

But Grayson did admit that those who played on Tuesday did catch his eye in a positive manner.

Looking ahead to the battle with Nigel Clough’s ‘Steel City’ men, Grayson said: “On paper it is a big game but we won’t get any extra points if we manage to beat Sheffield United. But it is two big teams going head to head as they try to get up to the Championship.

“Sheffield United are the bookies’ favourites for promotion and we are close behind them.

“Nigel has done a fantastic job since going there, turning the club around after the poor start they made last season.

“If we can replicate the performance against them at home last season when we absolutely battered them yet drew 0-0, then we have got a good chance.

“United have a strong squad with a mix of experienced and younger players.

“This has all the hallmarks of being a decent game and we want to win it.

“We put pressure on ourselves to do well. We 
don’t want to settle for the play-offs, we want promotion as do Sheffield United, Bristol City and half-a-dozen other clubs.

“Whether you do well is nothing to do with what the bookies do.

“We have to be consistent with our performances and be able to replicate good play from now until May.”

Grayson was encouraged by the performance against Boro despite it ending in defeat.

And he felt it was a step up from the display which bagged victory over Oldham last week.

“We set ourselves high standards here and I didn’t think we reached them in the Oldham game,” said Grayson.

“But I don’t think there is any manager who will have been looking at the games so far and thinking that his side have fired on all cylinders yet.

“We have played a lot of games in terms of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday but players are still finding their feet, their sharpness and fitness levels.

“I still feel there is a long way to go in terms of where we want to get to.

“The shape of the division only comes after 10 to 12 games and that tends to apply to performances too.

“That’s the way it is, that is football but we want to get to the highest standards quickly.”

Meanwhile, PNE were the fourth-highest spenders on fees to agents in League One in the financial period between July 1, 2013, and June 30 this year, according to figures released by the Football League.

They spent £189,104 in a total of 63 transactions – an average of a little over £3,000 per transaction.

Wolves had the biggest outlay, the League One winners spending £571,350.

Bristol City were second, having spent £339,467, with Brentford in third with £253,236.

North End were next, then came Bradford in fifth, paying fees of £157,680.