PNE boss is the special one

Preston boss Simon Grayson has guided three clubs to promotion from League One

Preston boss Simon Grayson has guided three clubs to promotion from League One

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Simon Grayson will be chasing a fourth promotion from League One as a manager when he takes to Preston North End to Wembley.

He has guided Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield out of this division and is determined to add PNE to that list.

The promotions for the Seasiders and Huddersfield were both achieved via the play-offs.

In between was automatic promotion via a second-place finish with Leeds.

It goes without saying that Grayson had hoped North End would be on holiday by now with promotion in the bag.

After all, they were in pole position in the automatic promotion race until the very last day of the campaign.

That is history now, the focus on Sunday and trying to get the better of Swindon for the prize of a place in the Championship.

As a player, Grayson was twice promoted with Leicester City via the play-offs.

So clearly the Football League’s end-of-season knockout is a competition he is comfortable within.

Blackpool’s play-off triumph under Grayson came in 2007, when they beat Yeovil 2-0 at Wembley.

That was on their 10th win on the bounce, momentum being king that year.

Grayson’s Wembley victory with Huddersfield three years ago was a far more nervy experience.

Not that the manager showed any nerves according to his loyal No.2 Glynn Snodin.

Neither Town or Sheffield United could manage a goal in 120 minutes, with the final going to penalties.

Snodin told the Evening Post: “I thought Huddersfield had done just enough to win it in the 120 minutes but obviously that was not the case.

“When it came to the penalties, Huddersfield missed their first three and I thought that was it, we were out of it.

“I couldn’t see any other result at that point than a Sheffield United win.

“But events turned out the way they did – it got down to the keepers taking penalties which was amazing.

“I aged 10 years during that shoot-out – I came down to the bench to watch them after being in the stand for the game.

“Simon was as calm as I have know him.

“He sat there and knew exactly who was going up next to take one.

“After the last penalty when all the celebrations were taking place, the gaffer shook hands with their bench – he was a gentleman about it, there was no gloating.”

Grayson is 27 months into the North End job, taking charge on February 18, 2013.

His 133 games in charge have resulted in 67 wins, 42 draws and 24 defeats – a win rate of just over 50%.

When appointed to succeed Graham Westley, his initial task was to arrest the slide towards the relegation zone –something he did pretty quickly.

Just as important was the restoration of morale at Deepdale.

The Westley era, while making financial savings, was damaging in other ways.

PNE’s public perception was damaged in many people’s eyes and a gulf had developed between fans and club.

Grayson has closed that gap, helped by results on the pitch and the dignified manner he adopts both on the touchline and away from games.

After last season’s fall at the semi-final stage of the play-offs, the aim this term was a straightforward one.

It was to get promotion back to the Championship.

The first chance of doing that fell by the wayside at Colchester three weeks ago.

So the play-off final is a second chance, one which Grayson is determined to take.

There is a high expectancy among the supporters and rightly so.

While no team carries the right to be in any division – it has to be earned – North End fans want to see their side back in English football’s second tier after four years away.

A generation of Preston folk were brought up on the Championship, the club having played its football there for 11 seasons between 2000 and 2011. The fact that PNE were twice within 90 minutes of the Premier League in that time, only adds to the frustration of being in League One.

Hopefully it is Grayson who can lead them up on Sunday, and embrace the Wembley experience as he has done at other clubs.

Swindon will be very tough opponents, having been contenders for automatic promotion until the final few weeks of the season.

The fact Preston finished 10 points higher in the table counts for nothing.

It is about what happens on the lush Wembley turf, who copes with the pressure best, who gets the breaks at the right times.

There is enough at Grayson’s disposal for that to be PNE. Come Sunday evening, hopefully he has a fourth League One promotion on his managerial CV.