Grayson playing a squad game

Simon Grayson points the way during North End's draw at Derby in midweek
Simon Grayson points the way during North End's draw at Derby in midweek
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Simon Grayson has often preached a ‘squad game’ mantra and the Preston manager has stuck by that this season.

Andy Boyle became the 30th player to turn out in the PNE first team when he made his debut against Derby in midweek.

Grayson has assembled a squad which allows scope for change should the need arise.

He points to the Derby game where he made four changes, both to react to the defeat at Fulham and to bring in fresh legs.

When Reading come to Deepdale on Saturday, there is the opportunity to tweak again – a third game in a week might see him go down that road.

“We try and have two players for each position although right-back is the exception to the rule with the injuries we’ve got there at the moment,” Grayson said.

“Over the last few years, more so this year, when we have made changes it doesn’t make us any weaker.

“What it gives us is a different outlook of how we go to play a game.

“This season there have been occasions where, for example, Simon Makienok 
has come in and given us something different to Callum Robinson or one of the other strikers.

“When Paul Gallagher comes in, you know that you are getting a passing midfield player, whereas DJ and Alan Browne give you that extra energy but not quite as much quality on the ball.

“That is the make-up of the squad we have tried to put together.

“We can use any player knowing they aren’t going to let the side down.

“On Tuesday night we made four changes and took a point from it.

“Andy Boyle came into the team for the first time and did ever so well.

“From the bench, Daryl Horgan came on and made an impact on the game, so did DJ and Makienok.

“I’ll have a look at things for Reading as this is the third game in a week for some of them.”

Grayson was pleased to take a point at Derby, Tom Barkhuizen scoring a 95th-minute equaliser.

Until that last-gasp goal, Preston were facing back-to-back defeats in the league for the first time since September.

“Since we’ve been here, we have often had a good reaction to a defeat,” said Grayson.

“As a staff, we don’t get too despondent when we lose a game but we are there to correct what we haven’t done right.

“Last week, we gave Fulham credit for their performance but then 
reflected on what we could have done better.

“While we got the draw at Derby, there were still one or two things we could have done better which would have given us a better chance of winning it.

“It was game I thought we could have won, there was nothing much in it.

“We showed a lot of character as a team to keep going until the 95th minute to get the goals.”

On another night, had another decision not gone against them, North End could have come away from Pride Park with all three points.

Callum Robinson had the ball in the net in the first half, heading home from Gallagher’s pinpoint centre.

An offside flag ruled it out, a borderline decision it must be said.

Was Grayson tempted to have a word with the man with the flag?

“I wasn’t tempted to, I did,” said Grayson.

“At half-time I looked at a replay and it was really close.

“From the angle we were looking from, it could have been a goal.

“Without a camera sideways on, it was very hard to tell.

“Hopefully one of these close calls will go our way sometime. Callum was fuming he didn’t have his goal – there have been a few of them recently.

“Luck supposedly evens itself out but we have not been getting the penalty decisions or the close offside decisions.

“We have got 10 games to go and hopefully some decisions will start to go our way.”

Preston host Reading looking to extend their six-game unbeaten league run at Deepdale.

After losing to Leeds on Boxing Day, they have won four and drawn twice.

They have won the last three in front of the home faithful, with Brentford, Birmingham and QPR all beaten.

Their nine home wins to date contrasts to seven in the whole of last term, something Grayson puts down to a more attacking approach.

“We have been stronger at Deepdale this season,” said Grayson.

“That comes with the type of team we have got and put out.

“Last season, we were very solid away from home, our record on the road was better.

“We would hit teams on the break, play with a 3-5-2 to give ourselves a base to play from.

“This season, we have played 4-4-2 a lot more and that had made us a bit more attack-minded.

“That allows the other team more opportunity which might have affected us away a bit.

“At home it puts us on the front foot and has had a positive impact.”

Reading head north to Lancashire chasing a place in the play-offs.

The Berkshire outfit occupy fifth place, seven points clear of Fulham, who lead the pack of clubs outside the top six.

An automatic spot looks beyond reach but you would expect Jaap Stam’s men to contest the end-of-season lottery.

Similarities can be drawn between Reading, Huddersfield and Fulham when it comes to their playing styles.

All three sides look to dominate possession, an approach Grayson is well aware of.

The North End boss said: “Reading are up in the play-offs and have been there for most of the season.

“They are a team who like to dominate the ball, against Newcastle during the week they had more than 70% possession.

“That is some statistic against the leaders of the division.

“It shows how they want to play and we have to deal with that.

“What matters is what is done in both boxes, you have to be ruthless with your defending and take chances when they come along.

“Different sides have different styles of play, that is the challenge you get every week.”