PNE boss Grayson goes back to start

Swindon midfielder Yaser Kasim
Swindon midfielder Yaser Kasim
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Simon Grayson will return to the scene of his first ever game in charge of Preston North when his team face Swindon Town at the County Ground tomorrow night.

It was in February 2013 when North End – who were still coming to terms with the end of the Graham Westley era – battled to a 1-1 draw against the Robins thanks to a goal from Will Hayhurst

If that game was to herald the start of a new era in North End’s recent history, the same could certainly be said of Swindon.

The week previously, maverick Italian Paolo Di Canio had walked out on the club – ending his two-year stint as manager.

After installing outfield players Tommy Miller and Darren Ward as joint-managers on a caretaker basis for the visit of PNE, Swindon eventually appointed Kevin MacDonald as their new leader.

Despite steering the club to a place in the play-offs – where they lost on penalties to Brentford in the semi-finals – MacDonald quit in the summer after less than six months in the job.

He was replaced by former lower league midfielder Mark Cooper on the eve of the new campaign.

After the colourful events of Di Canio’s rule and the short stay of MacDonald, Cooper has brought a relative calmness to the County Ground.

In his first campaign in charge, Cooper steered his club to a respectable top-eight finish in League One – missing out on a place in the play-offs by eight points.

There are signs this season that the Robins are ready to improve on that this year and mount a concerted promotion push.

They currently lie in fifth spot in the table but can move up to third with a victory tonight.

“My first game as Preston manager was at Swindon 18 or 19 months ago,” Grayson said.

“We got a 1-1 draw on that occasion.

“I think Mark has done a great job down there.

“It is a difficult place to go but we know we can go there and get a result because, in the main, we have done well in our away games this season.”

Swindon’s fine start this season has owed much to the qualities of tall striker Michael Smith, who has notched 11 goals so far in 17 appearances.

And Grayson knows his men will have to keep a close eye on the 6ft 4in targetman.

“I think Smith has done well for them,” Grayson said.

“He’s in double figures, but they are very strong in the midfield area with Yaser Kasim and Massimo Luongo.

“They play in a manner which is pleasing to the eye.

“They try to play it out from the back all the time.That is testament to Mark and his philosophies and how he wants to play.

“Potentially, it could be a really good game and hopefully we will come out on top.”

On Saturday, the Robins were narrowly beaten at MK Dons 2-1 and were leapfrogged in the table by Karl Robinson’s men.

Although disappointed to lose, Cooper was not totally downhearted.

“I’m not too displeased. We played reasonably well,” he said. “We created some really good chances but we have to be a bit more resolute when the game is not going our way.”