The race for the Championship: PNE in four-way tussle

Simon Grayson celebrates with the Preston fans at Valley Parade on Monday
Simon Grayson celebrates with the Preston fans at Valley Parade on Monday
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Simon Grayson is happy to preach the ‘one game at a time’ approach as Preston North End hit the final stages of their push for automatic promotion.

The Lilywhites manager has stuck with that mantra all season and says it is vital that his players keep thinking along the same lines.

North End have six matches remaining, starting with the weekend’s top-of-the-table clash with Bristol City.

Grayson said: “We chalk the games off one at a time, that is how we have done things all through the season.

“Each game we aim to put three points on the board and then move on to the next one.

“People will talk about how other teams are doing but our focus in just on what we are doing.

“Before the Bradford game on Monday, I stressed to the lads that one of the main reasons why we had done well in the last few weeks was because of how good our focus had been.

“They have approached training properly and have taken it on a match-by-match basis, never getting ahead of themselves.

“Sometimes you can look too far ahead of yourselves – you start thinking of the games beyond the next one.

“We tell the players before every game to go out and enjoy it, express themselves and play with no fear – there is no reason to tense up. You can imagine that at the moment 
is it a buoyant dressing 
room.

“We have different types of players and characters in there but all have terrific attitudes.

“Now we have a top-of the-table clash to look forward on Saturday.

“This game was always going to be a cracker but our win at Bradford has cranked it up a bit more.

“Saying that, ultimately there are only three points at stake but our challenge is to get those.”

The visit of City to Deepdale represents another tough test in a difficult run of fixtures.

In their last eight matches, North End have faced seven teams either in automatic promotion or play-off contention.

Doncaster were sixth when they drew 2-2 with PNE at the start of March and it has been a similar theme since – the exception being Crewe.

MK Dons occupied third spot ahead of North End’s visit, while Peterborough, Barnsley, Fleetwood, Rochdale and Bradford were sides with designs on getting into the play-offs.

Said Grayson: “We have played a lot of the top 10 in recent weeks – it’s been a tough run of games.

“It is testament to the players that we have come out of that sequence in good shape.

“The aim now is to keep it going over the next few weeks.”

Preston are one of only five sides to have beaten City this season, winning 1-0 at Ashton Gate in November thanks to a Callum Robinson goal. Saturday’s game should attract a biggest league crowd of the season to Deepdale.

While the sold-out signs went up for the FA Cup clash against Manchester United, the best in the league was the 13,793 who watched the Boxing Day win over Barnsley.

The next highest was 13,363 against Coventry – fans buying for that one were guaranteed a United ticket.

Fleetwood’s visit in October attracted a 13,280 attendance.

The crowd for the victory over Rochdale last Friday was 12,228, with more than 11,000 home supporters.

City had sold 1,800 of their allocation prior to their 3-0 victory against Swindon on Tuesday night.

So a following around the 2,500 mark is a realistic estimate.

Grayson hopes a sizeable crowd can generate a decent atmosphere.

That was very much evident at Bradford, with both sets of supporters among a 
16,032 attendance in good voice.

North End had 2,216 fans in West Yorkshire, another strong following on the road.

A sell-out 1,396 travelled to Fleetwood, with 2,927 at Barnsley for Gentry Day last month.

Grayson should have a full-strength squad to choose from on Saturday.Paul Huntington’s back gave him some trouble during the first half at Bradford.

But it is hoped that his early withdrawal and a few days’ rest can lead to a quick recovery.

He was replaced by Jack King for the second half, with Neil Kilkenny coming on for John Welsh. Both made their mark on the game, Kilkenny finding plenty of space to play in.

It was from Bristol City that the midfielder joined PNE in November 2013.

WHO PLAYS WHO?

BRISTOL CITY

APRIL

11 Preston (A)

14 Bradford (A)

18 Coventry (H)

25 Chesterfield (A)

MAY

3 Walsall (H)

PRESTON

APRIL

11 Bristol City (H)

14 Gillingham (H)

17 Port Vale (A)

21 Notts County (A)

25 Swindon (H)

MAY

3 Colchester (A)

MK DONS

APRIL

11 Port Vale (A)

14 Fleetwood (A)

18 Leyton Orient (H)

21 Doncaster (H)

25 Rochdale (A)

MAY

3 Yeovil (H)

SWINDON TOWN

APRIL

11 Peterborough (H)

14 Rochdale (A)

18 Yeovil (H)

21 Walsall (H)

25 Preston (A)

28 Colchester (A)

MAY

3 Leyton Orient (H)