Grayson expects PNE to face tougher test

North End manager Simon Grayson
North End manager Simon Grayson
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Preston boss Simon Grayson predicts the Championship will be as tough as ever in the 2017/17 campaign.

The division in the season just finished was regarded as the most competitive it had been for some years.

Much focus in 2016/17 was on the sides who had come down from the Premier League – Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich City.

Newcastle were the only one of that trio to go straight back up to the top flight.

This time, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Hull have made the drop, all with the biggest amount of parachute money yet given to relegated clubs.

So the battle to achieve what Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield have just done, is set to be a feisty one.

Grayson said: “I think last season was really tough with Newcastle, Norwich and Villa coming down.

“They are three big clubs and joined some others who had underachieved the season before.

“This time Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull have come down.

“Throw in Aston Villa who under-achieved, Derby, who spend a lot of money, and the teams who missed out in the play-offs, it’s getting stronger every year because that 
money from the Premier League drips down.”

It has been successive 
11th-place finishes for 
Grayson’s North End since they returned to the second tier. They should really have finished higher in the season just ended after being in the mix for a play-off push until early April.

But the Lilywhites took just one point from their last six games, ending with the same number of points and in the same position they had done a year before.

Grayson said: “We were a bit disappointed how we 
finished.

“We ran out of steam a little bit, picked up a few injuries and suspensions, which didn’t help us.

“We’ve got to keep improving and working hard to try and get better each year.”

The North End squad are back at Springfields for 
pre-season training on 
Thursday, June 29.

It will be a five-week build-up to the new campaign which kicks off on the weekend of August 5/6.

Preston have announced six pre-season friendlies to date, with another still to be added.

The EFL fixture release date is June 22 – a week after the Premier League announce theirs.