PNE opponents comfortable as top dogs

Joe Bryan scored his sixth goal of the season in Bristol City's 3-0 win over Swindon Town on Tuesday night

Joe Bryan scored his sixth goal of the season in Bristol City's 3-0 win over Swindon Town on Tuesday night

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If being top of the table brings with it pressure, then Bristol City have shown a remarkably calm head over the last eight months.

The Robins have spent the vast majority of the campaign perched on the summit of League One and are on the brink of a return to the Championship after a two-year absence.

It was on September 13 that City went top, staying there until early January.

Swindon and then MK Dons briefly flirted with the leadership, largely by reason of having played a game or two more.

But Steve Cotterill’s men went back top on February 1 and have stayed there since.

They come to Deepdale this weekend to face Preston, who are eight points behind in second place.

A North End victory, coupled with having a game in hand on City, could make things interesting up there.

The focus from a PNE perspective though, is making sure the gap remains between them and MK Dons.

Bar a big twist, Bristol City’s 3-0 victory over Swindon on Tuesday night turned the automatic battle into a three-horse race – although Swindon might dispute that.

Goals from Kieran Agard, Joe Bryan and Aaron Wilbraham delivered the three points in the Ashton Gate clash.

Victory delighted Cotterill, who then turned his attention to the PNE clash.

Cotterill said: “My honest opinion is that it was important for us to win on Tuesday night.

“We still have a difficult April to negotiate, but we’ve made it easier for ourselves.

“Preston is another big, big game. We need to come down from this one, rest up properly and prepare like we usually do.”

There had been an edge to the West Country derby with Swindon, by reason of City’s 1-0 defeat at Swindon in November’s reverse fixture.

That game had seen Wade Elliott red carded inside the first few minutes.

Cotterill said: “We’ve played the whole season with honesty and integrity and that is why we are second only to Walsall in the Fair Play League. I didn’t have to say anything to my players before the game. They knew.”

Reflecting on the game as a whole, Cotterill added: “Swindon score a lot of goals during the first five minutes of the second half and that was something we spoke about.

“We had to make sure we were organised during that period.

“We knew that we would have to defend well and work hard to keep them out and we didn’t give them too many looks at our goal at the start of the second half.

“Our organisation was fantastic and so was our fitness. I thought it was a deserved victory.”

Cotterill has shown consistency in his team selection this season.

Three players – goalkeeper Frank Fielding together with defenders Aden Flint and Luke Ayling – have started all of their 41 league games.

Luke Freeman, Derrick Williams and Korey Smith have started 39 of them.

There are three others in the shape of Mark Little, Bryan and Wilbraham who have started more than 30 League One games.

In all, Cotterrill has used only 24 players in league action.

Wilbraham is top scorer with 16 league goals and three more in the FA Cup.

Former Rotherham striker Agard has 11 for the season and Flint 10 from centre-back.