PNE still have big say in promotion race

Burnley striker Andre Gray is the division's leading scorer with 24 league goals
Burnley striker Andre Gray is the division's leading scorer with 24 league goals
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Preston North End might be back in 10th place but they could have a big say in the shake-up at the top of the Championship.

Their derby clash with Burnley is a key game in the race for automatic promotion.

It is a three-way battle at the top, Middlesbrough leading the way with the Clarets and Brighton in second and third respectively.

Were North End to take points off Sean Dyche’s men at Deepdale, it would open the way for Brighton to leapfrog them – goal difference currently separates them.

An away win would send Burnley send top for a few hours at least, with Boro playing Ipswich at home on Saturday.

Little wonder that all eyes will be on Deepdale for the televised clash.

Burnley make the trip from East Lancashire boasting an impressive 20-game unbeaten run in the league and also the division’s top scorer in the shape of Andre Gray who has bagged 24 goals.

Their last defeat was a 3-0 reverse at Hull on Boxing Day.

Four draws in the last six games though, have allowed Boro to go above them of late.

Clarets centre-back Michael Keane, who scored their injury-time equaliser against Boro at Turf Moor on Tuesday night, accepts it could be a nervy last fortnight of the campaign.

Keane said: “We’ve got three games left now and it’s so close so anything can still happen.

“ We’ve just got to focus on Friday and take it one game at a time.

“It’s a huge game for the fans and at this stage of the season every game is massive.

“We’ve got to go in to it like it’s a cup final and look for the win. We have won a lot of games but recently we’ve had a few draws – a few disappointing draws and a few brilliant draws as well.

“There have been ups and downs but it’s been a fantastic run and we just need to keep it going now for three more games. God knows how many points we’re going to need at the end of the season but three more wins is all we’re focusing on.”

PNE won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Turf Moor, a game which saw Keane face his twin brother Will – then on loan at North End from Manchester United.

Will Keane, scorer of the first goal that day, returned to United in January, having requested an early recall. He has since suffered an injury which has ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Michael Keane said: “Will’s not involved there anymore and I’m glad he’s not 
playing.

“It was disappointing when they came here and did a job on us but hopefully we’ll go there, put in a good performance and get a result.

“Will’s turned into a Burnley fan now for the last few games, so he’s rooting for us.”

North End will be looking to do the double on Burnley for the first time since the 2007/08 campaign.

That season – under Alan Irvine – they went to Turf Moor and won 3-2, then beat the Clarets 2-1 at Deepdale.