PNE targeting automatic promotion – Clarke

Preston North End's Tom Clarke
Preston North End's Tom Clarke
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Tom Clarke has insisted that automatic promotion is still within Preston North End’s reach despite the gap which has opened up in front of them.

While the Lilywhites were battling out Tuesday night’s goalless draw at Bradford, the top three all won.

League leaders Brentford are now 13 points clear of PNE and Leyton Orient 11 points better off.

Wolves, in third place, have a nine-point advantage over Simon Grayson’s men.

North End defender Clarke is still looking upwards as he prepares to face Notts County at Deepdale on Saturday.

Clarke told the Evening Post: “We have a big game this weekend.

“We are at home, we want to entertain and get a win to kick us on, stay in contention with the three teams above who keep grinding out wins.

“That is what we need to do, put a run of wins together to try and close that gap.

“I don’t see why we cannot catch them because we have the team and squad to do it.

“We need those wins, especially at home, and hopefully they will come for us.

“We are definitely not just thinking of the play-offs, we are aiming for the top two.

“At the very least we hope to get into the play-offs, but our target is automatic.

“We have a big squad which contains some good players.”

In terms of league results, North End have stumbled in January.

After beating Port Vale on New Year’s Day, they lost 2-0 at Wolves and have drawn with Coventry and Bradford.

However, mixed in with those results has been some good form in the FA Cup.

They drew at Ipswich before beating them in the replay at Deepdale, and then last Friday held Nottingham Forest to a goalless draw.

The shut-out at Bradford was Preston’s 16th clean sheet this season – 12 of those coming in the league.

As a regular in the defence, 26-year-old Clarke is pleased with such statistics.

The PNE No.5 said: “We had to work hard to defend against Bradford.

“They had the little one and big one combination up front in Aaron Mclean and James Hanson.

“We knew that Hanson would win most of the flick-ons so it was our job to get round and cover. I thought we did that well.

“Our aim as a back three or back four is to try and keep clean sheets, and at the other end we will always get chances with the players we have up there.”

Adding extra firepower to the side is on Preston’s agenda before the transfer window closes tomorrow night.

They have got striker targets in mind, both permanent and on loan.

There is also the safety net of the loan window to fall back on should no business be done in January.

However, loans made during that window – which opens a week on Friday – are limited to 93 days.

In order to keep the budget balanced, there could be some outward business done.

A League Two club have been tracking John Mousinho who has regained fitness after tearing his hamstring while on loan at Gillingham.