Dave Seddon's PNE press view

The walk from the tunnel to the dug-out at Deepdale is one Simon Grayson made many a time during his four years and four months as Preston boss.

Saturday, 30th September 2017, 8:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th October 2017, 3:24 pm
Sunderland's ex-PNE boss Simon Grayson returns to Deepdale on Saturday

He will make the same stroll in Sunderland colours on Saturday afternoon and the talk among North End fans in recent days has been about what kind of reception will accompany him.

The general consensus is that Grayson will receive a warm welcome from the vast majority of the PNE faithful.

That is something I do hope happens in recognition of his near four-and-a-half years service.

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After all, Grayson served North End very well and left the club in a stronger place than he found it.

He is one of only six PNE managers in the past half-century to win a promotion when in post at Deepdale, following in the footsteps of Alan Ball Snr, Nobby Stiles, John McGrath, Gary Peters and David Moyes.

The foundations he left are ones which Alex Neil has started to build on in a rather exciting fashion at this early stage of the campaign.

Grayson’s somewhat hasty departure at the end of June will be the reason why the welcome from some fans is not quite so generous.

A matter of a few hours separated the official call from Sunderland for his services and Grayson putting pen to paper on his deal at the Stadium of Light.

Too short a time to sort out so much was to arouse the suspicion of some and taint his exit in their eyes.

I can see the logic in that and potentially it could have put North End in something of a difficult position as the players waited to do their first training session of the pre-season.

They didn’t panic though, drew a deep breath and soon made the appointment of Neil, whose stock grows by the week with the fans.

I suppose in the cold light of day, Grayson did what many people would do if the offer of a better paid job was to come up.

But you do wonder if the enormity of the rebuilding task there was one he did not quite grasp.

Returning to his time at Preston, Grayson was to be the longest-serving manager since the 1960s.

The progress the club made under him is there to see, the fact they are in their third season playing in the Championship a measure of the journey taken under him.

Grayson’s immediate task was to ward off any threat of relegation in the final few months of 2012/13.

That was done with some comfort and the focus the following season was turned on the top end of the table.

Fifth place and a play-off semi-final exit at Rotherham was a big improvement but there was disappointment to fall at quite a late hurdle.

Wembley a year later was a day to remember, North End taking Swindon to the cleaners.

Yes, they should have gone up automatically a few weeks earlier, but who would swap that glorious afternoon under the arch? Not many I would guess.

An 11th-place finish in the first season up was beyond expectation.

If progress did stall under Grayson, it was in the final few weeks of last term when a few things combined to see them end in 11th again when really they should have been a couple of positions higher.

Perhaps Grayson felt he had taken Preston as far as he could and that might well have been the case.

Now the baton has been passed to Neil – a new set of eyes for the job, someone with a different approach.

Time will tell, but the summer might have been just the right time for change, a fresh outlook if you will in order to take the next step forward.

As Neil acknowledged at his press conference during the week, Grayson left the place in ‘good nick’ for him.

It is Neil’s turn now to build something, the first 10 games offering a great deal of encouragement.

Excitement levels have been rising and you feel the expectancy is too.

Performances like the one at Hull on Tuesday night and the outcome there was, can only fuel the excitement.

Any away win is always a welcome one, for it to be achieved with an 88th-minute goal was even better.

I’ll take that on another notch, for three North End players to be busting a gut to get into the box to meet Daryl Horgan’s cross was a sight to be behold.

To think, no Preston team had won on Hull soil for 25 years until this week.

Much attention went on the substitutions Neil made at the KCOM Stadium.

Jordan Hugill and John Welsh were sacrificed for Callum Robinson and Josh Harrop in a tactical change.

Then Horgan’s fresh legs replaced Tom Barkhuizen in a like-for-like swap out wide.

All three substitutes were involved in the late winner, Harrop nicking the ball off a defender and playing Horgan in down the side of the box.

Horgan’s cross was such that Robinson could not miss, although with the way he got under the ball with his header, I’m glad he was only a couple of yards out!

PNE will look to build on that win against Sunderland.

At 3pm it is down to business. However warm the welcome was, Grayson will then be just another opposition manager patrolling his side of the technical area.