Exclusive Sean Gregan PNE column

Greg Cunningham appears to be fouled by Burnley's Matthew Lowton and  Joey Barton in the penalty area but referee Kevin Friend gave the free-kick outside the area
Greg Cunningham appears to be fouled by Burnley's Matthew Lowton and Joey Barton in the penalty area but referee Kevin Friend gave the free-kick outside the area
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I do not think you can be too critical of Preston North End’s defeat to Burnley in Friday’s derby at Deepdale.

Take a step back a moment to last season, North End were playing Fleetwood, while for Burnley it was games against Manchester City and Chelsea.

They have come together in the same division and on this occasion, Burnley took the three points.

It must be remembered that in December, PNE won at Turf Moor, so that provides a little bit of balance.

Burnley came down from the Premier League with their parachute money and only lost a couple of players from their squad.

They have recruited well and look good for a return to the top flight.

Looking the bigger picture, North End also won derby games away at Blackburn and Bolton this season, as well as at Turf Moor.

That is a decent return but I do accept it would have been great to win on Friday night.

A look at the contrasting results home and away in the derby games, probably says a lot about North End.

I have mentioned a few times this season that the way they set-up makes them a more effective away team.

They are happy to defend strongly and then catch teams on the break.

That often works better in away games when the onus is on the home team to attack.

At Deepdale, teams will sit back more and invite Preston to do more of the attacking.

While it is now five games without a win, I don’t accept that North End have one eye on the summer.

There is professional pride involved and even if you aren’t going to go up or down, as a player you want to win every game you play in.

So I’ve never bought into the suggestion that the flip-flops are already on.

Teams wearing their flip-flops don’t battle back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with an 89th-minute equaliser, like Preston did at Birmingham last week.

For me, that was the sign of a side still battling for each other, not one with thoughts of the beach.

During the summer, there will be recruitment done by North End in an attempt to be stronger for next season.

It goes without saying that a proven finisher will be top of the list – clubs at all levels want someone like that.

It will be a very competitive Championship next season.

Aston Villa have come down and will be joined by two from Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich, all of them with lots of parachute money.

Whoever doesn’t make it up through the play-offs, you suspect will spend big to try and go one better.

It is a great division to be in though, and I’m sure Simon Grayson and the PNE players will relish the challenge.

I am hoping that we will see the best of a fully-fit Jermaine Beckford next season.

His sharpness is steadily coming back, having returned to action in the last month or so after his injury.

North End have missed him this season, they have missed the partnership he struck up with Joe Garner.

Finally, it has been a big week for Darlington, where I’m on the coaching staff.

We won the NPL Premier Division last Thursday night, having beaten Whitby 7-1 – we were 3-0 up after 10 minutes.

In February, we were 16 points behind the leaders and in seventh place.

We played eight games in 21 days recently, a demanding schedule for a part-time side.

Next season we will be in National League North with Chorley, AFC Fylde, FC United and Stockport.