Grayson ready to return to his old stamping ground
Simon Grayson had April earmarked as a key month for Preston right from the moment the fixtures came out last summer.
Regardless of league position, away games at Leeds, Huddersfield and Newcastle, together with Norwich’s visit, always jumped out.
Grayson takes North End to Elland Road for the first of those games, with fifth-placed Leeds waiting for them in Yorkshire.
A former player and manager there, the game is of much significance for the PNE boss.
His focus is not on the occasion, it is firmly on trying to get a victory.
With Preston five points off the top six with six games to play, wins are what are needed to close that gap.
Grayson said: “This is a big game and anyone who looked at the fixtures last June would have thought April was a big month for us, whatever our position in the division.
“We are playing Leeds, Huddersfield, Norwich and Newcastle in the next four games.
“On Saturday we play a Leeds side who want to stay in the play-offs, we will go there trying to get something out of it.
“If we can get a result there, it would certainly keep us within touching distance of the play-offs.
“We try and win every game we play, whether home or away we don’t set out and go for draws.
“It is important we try and pick up three points rather than one, our focus is on that.”
Grayson was Leeds manager for more than three years, appointed in December 2008 and staying in office until February 2012.
They were one of four clubs he guided to promotion from League One and they were well placed in the Championship when the axe fell.
A succession of head coaches and managers have struggled to make the impact he did, but now Garry Monk has them in contention for a crack at the play-offs.
Grayson points out that the expectation level is high at Leeds, something which could be crucial during North End’s visit.
“When you play a team in the top six in front of 30,000, you have to make sure you do a job and keep the crowd quiet.
“If things get going at Elland Road, the crowd can play a big part.
“Leeds are strong at home and we need to make it difficult for them.
“When you look at their team, the big threat which jumps straight out at you is Chris Wood, the leading scorer in the division.
“Wood is a handful and we’ll have to watch him.
“Pablo Hernandez is a clever player and they have a lot of experience in their squad.
“They seem to be quite secure at the back but they are not unbeatable.”
PNE suffered a heavy defeat to Monk’s men on Boxing Day, beaten 4-1 at Deepdale.
Grayson still thinks the scoreline was harsh on his side while accepting they were off-colour.
He said: “That was a game which hinged on some key moments.
“Leeds played well but Rob Green made a couple of really good saves, one in particular from Alan Browne which would have got us back into the game.
“We didn’t play that well and Leeds showed their quality at times.
“Myself and Garry both said after the game that it wasn’t a 4-1 game.”
North End won’t have the numbers in the away end on Saturday that they have had in recent weeks.
The PNE fans are being charged £37 for a seat and that rises to £42 if they pay at the turnstiles.
It is expected that the following will be around the 700-800 mark rather than a considerably higher number if the prices had been more reasonable.
Said Grayson: “The fans have been brilliant all season and we’ve taken large numbers away.
“It is bordering on a disgrace that it is £37 for a Championship fixture and £42 on the day.
“There’s got to be some thought for supporters who want to go to watch football matches. We had the same at Sheffield Wednesday earlier this season.
“We charge £24, which is realistic .
“How can Championship clubs charge more than Premier League teams to watch their team play?
“Hopefully our fans who go to Leeds and pay will get value for money from us.”
North End head over the Pennines on the back of the 5-0 thumping they dished out to Bristol City.
It was the biggest win of the season, the first time they had scored five goals for more than two years.
A four-goal blitz in 21 second-half minutes caused the damage, some of their play after the break having Grayson purring.
“When I reflect on the game, my view now hasn’t changed since I spoke on Tuesday night,” he said.
“In the first half we did okay without being very good, we needed to improve on certain things.
“Key moments change games and there was the save Chris Maxwell made from Bailey Wright which was one of them.
“The penalty very soon after half-time gave us the second goal.
“The second goal in any game is important and Tom Clarke scoring the third gave us the platform to go and express ourselves.
“There was a real spring in our step after that, it was very much like the Brentford game when we scored four to put them to the sword.
“Our attacking players were exceptional, while defensively we were very good.
“We wanted to keep a clean sheet, defenders take a real pride in that.
“We’ve got six games to go to the end of the season and it will go very quickly.
“As I’ve said many times, I want the players to embrace the challenge and enjoy it.
“We work hard with them on and off the pitch to get them in the best shape for the games.
“I’m enjoying all this, it’s brilliant to be involved in the play-off battle.
“The pressure is far worse when you are down at the bottom end of the table trying to avoid relegation.
“We are in a very tough division and it is great that we are going well.
“There will be plenty of twists and turns yet, we saw some last week with Burton beating Huddersfield.”