Cup victory could prove a key night for PNE

Scott Laird celebrates after team-mate Paul Huntington scored Preston's second goal at Bramall Lane
Scott Laird celebrates after team-mate Paul Huntington scored Preston's second goal at Bramall Lane
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Preston North End manager Simon Grayson hopes he will be able to look back at the FA Cup win over Sheffield United last month as the catalyst for a successful promotion push.

The 3-1 victory in the replay on February has sparked a strong run of form.

PNE’s single loss since then came at Manchester United’s hands, with them seven games unbeaten in League action.

Six of those have resulted in victories, a run they will be looking to extend against Crewe Alexandra at Deepdale on Saturday.

A rare clear midweek has allowed Grayson some time to reflect on a busy but satisfying spell for the Lilywhites.

Grayson told the Evening Post: “I think the Sheffield United replay was a spark.

“One game can really be a catalyst, be a part of the season where you really crack on.

“The replay offered the big incentive of playing against Manchester United in the next round.

“There was also an incentive of the previous results we’d had, putting that poor run behind us.

“We had to make sure we meant business again and do you also throw into the equation the coincidence of Joe Garner coming back?

“There are many things you can look at from that night and it was a big result bearing in mind too how well Sheffield United were playing then.

“Our win was well deserved on the night and it has given us a big lift.”

Grayson also sees events away from the pitch in and around the replay as being key to the upturn.

“The back end of January worked really recruitment wise and having people back from injury,” he said. “We had suffered from injuries in key areas and did not have certain people available.

“At some stage of the season or other, all teams will have injury concerns.

“Look at MK Dons last week, they had a few out and that can be difficult.

“I always thought that if we were around the top two, even six or seven points off it with 10 or 12 games to go and having our full squad back, we could still really push on.

“That has been the case 
and I’m pleased with how we are going along at the moment.”

With Bristol City having gone 13 points clear at the top on Tuesday night after a 3-0 win at Yeovil, effectively there is one automatic promotion slot up for grabs.

The intensity of games starts again with Crewe’s visit followed by a home clash with Peterborough next Tuesday.

Then it is back-to-back weekend trips to Barnsley and Fleetwood, before the Easter programme.

With that in mind, Grayson is glad to be having this short breather between games.

“The intensity of the build-up to a game can take it out of you and the players,” said Grayson.

“So having no midweek game and being able to give the lads an extra day’s rest is beneficial.

“Once we have played at Barnsley a week on Saturday, we are down to single figures of games – that is when the countdown starts.

“That is the stage when everyone is looking around at what might be and what will happen in every division.”