PNE promotion bid going to the wire

Daniel Johnson celebrates scoring the opening goal  at Vale Park with Paul Huntington (left)

Daniel Johnson celebrates scoring the opening goal at Vale Park with Paul Huntington (left)

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As Preston head down the M6 and across the A50 to Notts County on Tuesday night, there is nothing to complicate their task.

There will be no need for rocket science or advanced mathematics, a calculator and copy of the fixture list is not required.

PNE need three points, simple as that. It is stating the obvious but that is where they are at.

If the mission is indeed accomplished at Meadow Lane, then same again when Swindon visit Deepdale on Saturday and at Colchester a week on Sunday.

Gather nine points and it is Championship football for North End next season.

Anything less will hand the initiative to MK Dons and you enter the territory of needing them to slip up.

They have won six of the last seven games, so having to look for a helping hand from their opponents might be sailing close to the wind.

North End’s squad are aware of what is required from them, aware also of the frustration of the past week.

Three draws in a row have slowed their progress, two of those significantly.

The 1-1 draw with now champions Bristol City was actually a decent point all things considered.

But sharing the spoils with Gillingham and Port Vale has been damaging.

Utterly frustrating too when you bear in mind how much PNE were in control of those two games, only to let their opponents back in.

“The draw against Port Vale felt 100% like a defeat,” said Daniel Johnson.

“It was flat afterwards in the dressing room and now we have to get ourselves back on it for Notts County.

“The last two results have been difficult to take – I thought we should have won them both.

“Our focus now is on the last three games and trying to win them.

“If we win them all we don’t need to worry about anyone else…if we win them all we go up.

“We know the situation, results haven’t gone our way in the last few days but we need them to start going our way again.

“It is up to us to do that, get our heads round the last couple of results and learn from them.

“Credit to Gillingham and Port Vale for coming back and doing what they did.

“The focus is on us and what we need is a win against Notts County.

“I suppose that if football was predictable, every team would be perfect.

“That is not the case, things happen and it is up to us to bounce back from the last two results.”

When Johnson struck his eighth Preston goal to put them into an early lead at Vale Park on Friday night, all seemed right in the world for PNE supporters.

Nearly 2,500 of them had made the trip to Burslem and the ‘50 grand’ song rang out loudly from the away end in honour of the midfielder’s strike, which clipped a Vale player on the way in.

North End could have been ahead before his goal and also had first-half chances to add to it.

Then came a second half of three penalties, two for Vale and one for North End, all of which were put away to bring about the 2-2 scoreline.

Said Johnson: “It is always nice to score goals to help the team out and I thought we could go on to get the three points.

“The first half at Port Vale was what it was – we went 1-0 up and we controlled it.

“At half-time the manager told us to continue what we had been doing.

“Unfortunately, Port Vale got the penalty which I didn’t think was a penalty.

“Then we got the lead back with our own penalty when their defender handled Tom Clarke’s shot on the line.

“Late on, they got another penalty and that cost us the full three points.”

A big frustration for PNE centre-back Paul Huntington in the Vale Park clash centred on the Valiants’ first penalty.

It was awarded for a push by skipper Clarke on Tom Pope.

You would argue it fell into the ‘soft’ category, with some referees giving it, others not.

Huntington wished that ref Richard Clark had viewed it the latter way rather than in the way he did.

“I said to the ref that if you give that one, you will give 10 or 15 penalties a game,” said Huntington.

“It was an unbelievable decision and that gave Port Vale the impetus.

“I’m not being biased with that view. I will hold my hands up for the foul by John Welsh for the second penalty – that was a penalty.

“Tom has got his body in between the man and ball was just trying to see it behind.”

Huntington returned to North End’s defence at Vale after overcoming the back injury which was the legacy of a nasty collision in last month’s derby at Fleetwood.

The centre-back had got through 45 minutes against Bradford on Easter Monday, only for the injury to flare up.

So until Friday night it had been a game of patience as he waited to regain full fitness.

Turning his thoughts to the next couple of weeks, Huntington said: “It is still in our own hands, that is one of the positives we can take from what has happened.

“I cannot thank enough the fans who went to Port Vale, the away fans have been brilliant this season.

“What I’d say to them is ‘stick with us’. It is not ideal what has happened in the last couple of games.

“We will look to go again on Tuesday at Notts County and try and learn the lessons from the Gillingham and Port Vale matches.

“We’ll see what happens and try to be a little bit better.

“It is time to look forward now, that is what is important.”

Awaiting North End at Meadow Lane will be a Notts County side entrenched in a relegation battle.

At one stage this season the talk was of the Magpies being candidates for a 
play-off push.

But a run of just one win in 14 matches has seen them tumble down the League One table.

Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Crawley left them third from bottom of the table, two points adrift of safety.

They had drawn five on the bounce until the weekend but are now at the stage where wins are needed.

County have changed their manager in recent weeks, Shaun Derry sacked last month after failing to arrest their slide down the table.

He has been replaced by Dutchman Ricardo Moniz who a few years ago was skills coach at Tottenham.

The 50-year-old’s last job before landing the Meadow Lane post was as coach of German club 1860 Munich.

Reflecting on the defeat against Crawley and looking ahead to the visit of Preston, Moinz said: “In bad times you learn who has character, and you must not be hectic.

“Without any individual class, it is very difficult.

“We went behind in the first 15 minutes because of individual mistakes.

“We must not be negative now, we will stick together.

“Tuesday is another chance against a fantastic team, who are playing for promotion.

“We have to stick together, we can never give up, especially for all the fans that travelled.

We have to prepare and not make these mistakes, we have said it many times.”

This will be the third game between the sides this term.

They met at Deepdale on the opening day, Joe Garner’s last-minute equaliser earning PNE a 1-1 draw.

In December, North End won 1-0 at Meadow Lane in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.